Most police car crashes are minor

May 29, 2009
By

JOHN RUCH


Gazette Photo by Lori DeSantis
Police vehicles cram into every available nook and cranny of the E-13 Police Station parking lt at 3347 Washington St., a common spot for fender benders.

Cops often at fault; station lot a problem

Most police vehicle accidents in Jamaica Plain are minor, though police officers are at fault in about half of them, a Gazette review of internal records for 15 crashes in 2008 has found.

Fender-benders in the local E-13 Police Station’s tiny, jam-packed parking lot are a common problem, leading to regular complaints from E-13’s commanders, the records show.

“Emergency response is often delayed due to the overcrowding,” warned former commander Capt. Christine Michalosky in one accident report last year.

The Gazette review found one serious accident that was not reported to the general public. In that incident, two officer-driven vehicles collided on Columbus Avenue, causing one of them to crash into three parked cars. The report’s vague language makes it unclear what exactly caused the wreck.

Careless civilian drivers are another major cause of police vehicle accidents. Causing a police vehicle to crash is a sure way to get a ticket or two, the records make clear.

But there is no sign of officers being ticketed when they were at fault, though they were often “coun-seled” about their driving. In some cases, the officers crashed while responding to an emergency, which is considered a mitigating factor by commanding officers.

All 15 accidents the Gazette reviewed involved different officers. It appears that all of the officers reported the accidents themselves.

There were no reports of serious injuries in any of the accidents, though officers were sent to hospitals in several of them.

Police vehicle accidents in JP drew attention last summer when an E-13 police wagon struck a stroller con-taining a 1-year-old infant in a Seaverns Avenue crosswalk. The police officer behind the wheel was later ticketed and sent back to the police academy’s driver training program. The Boston Police Department (BPD) volunteered none of that information at the time, most of which came out in Boston Globe reports.

A Gazette review of E-13 police reports found at least 19 police vehicle accidents in 2008. As previously reported, the Gazette frequently observes police vehicles violating various parking and traffic laws.

Seeking internal reports on those accidents, the Gazette filed three Freedom of Information Act requests with BPD over a six-month period before receiving the reports for 15 of them.

The Gazette has a pending request for reports on the other 2008 accidents, as well as 11 more accidents that happened between Jan. 1 and April 30 this year. As of this week, E-13 incident reports show at least 14 police vehicle accidents in JP so far this year.

Significant crashes

The August 2008 accident where Officer Patrick Wood struck the baby stroller was perhaps the worst police accident that year. The baby reportedly received minor injuries. Wood was not involved in the other accidents that year reviewed by the Gazette.

But two other police accidents that year also raise questions about police driving skills and the condition of their vehicles.

On Feb. 28, 2008 at the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Dimock Street, an SUV driven by Officer Javier Velasquez collided with an unmarked police car driven by Sgt. James O’Connor. The collision made the unmarked car crash into three parked vehicles, doing “extensive” damage, according to BPD report. A total of three of-ficers were taken to hospitals with apparently minor injuries.

BPD provided the Gazette with a brief report about the accident that does not explain why it happened or whether any of the officers were disciplined. The Gazette has requested follow-up documents about the crash, but none were immediately available.

A March 3, 2008 crash in Jackson Square involved an Internal Investigations sergeant deliberately running his BPD car into a streetlight pole after what he claimed was a brake failure.

Sgt. Timothy Horan reportedly was driving slowly when the brakes went out at 223 Centre St. Bumping the tires against the curb and throwing the car’s transmission into “park” both failed, so Horan chose to drive onto the sidewalk and ram the light pole to avoid a worse accident.

The reports provided to the Gazette do not include any follow-up documentation about whether the brakes were found to be faulty or whether that is a concern with the BPD cruiser fleet.

Parking lot

Like many civilian drivers, police officers sometimes bump into things when backing up. In 2008, objects officers backed their cars into included a Dumpster behind the JP fire station; a garage door at West Roxbury District Court; and, more seriously, the side of a school bus at the Curley School.

But the real fender-bender hotspot is much closer to home: the E-13 Police Station at 3347 Washington St. at the intersection with Green Street. The frequent minor accidents there are symptoms of a more serious prob-lem: overcrowded parking conditions that, commanders have said, slow down emergency response.

The accident reports reviewed by the Gazette show E-13 commanders requesting a redesign of the lot and the removal of a Boston Emergency Medical Services (EMS) ambulance from its post there.

On May 6, 2008, an EMS ambulance hit a parked police car in the lot.

“…I have requested several times over the last 4 years that the EMS be relocated,” Michalosky wrote in an internal report about the accident. “The E-13 parking lot is overcrowded and in poor condition. The ambulances are oversized. Emergency response is often delayed due to the overcrowding.”

That very same day, there was another accident in the lot, when an officer hit a Dumpster. “One often needs and [sic] extra set of eyes to navigate the narrow passage ways while avoiding huge pot holes and other moving vehicles,” Michalosky wrote in the report about that accident.

Later that month, an officer hit another officer’s personal vehicle in the lot. That prompted a BPD acci-dent investigator to recommend “that Capital Planning be notified to try to ease this situation which seems to happen all to [sic] often.”

It is unclear how far these requests and warnings have gone up the chain of command. E-13’s current acting commander, Lt. Richard Houston, referred questions to BPD’s Media Relations department, which had no immediate information.

“We don’t know of any complaints from the police department,” said EMS spokesperson Jennifer Mehigan. She said that if there are any parking lot redesign plans, “We’ll definitely collaborate with them.”

Mehigan said the ambulance crew uses the police station as an office and rest stop, but is often on call.

On a Gazette visit to the police station one evening earlier this month, the lot was crammed with vehicles. As this reporter walked along the Green Street side of the station, a police cruiser drove directly onto the sidewalk, only a few feet away, and parked. The officer apparently parked that way in part to make sure the EMS ambulance could leave on a call.

Silly civilians

The sight of a police vehicle apparently does not always make drivers more careful. Civilians were at fault in about half of the police vehicle accidents reviewed by the Gazette.

A significant crash on Lamartine Street in June 2008 was caused by a driver not pulling over for a police wagon, even though it had a blaring siren and flashing lights. Instead, the driver made an unsignaled turn in front of the wagon. While the civilian was cited, the police officer was still “counseled…on the necessity of being patient,” according to the report.

In a September 2008 crash, a motorcycle officer was hit from behind on Amory Street by a civilian who claimed a brake failure. In June 2008, a police cruiser was hit from behind in a chain-reaction crash while stopping to let a pedestrian cross Washington Street.

Driving an SUV despite having a suspended driver’s license is already a bad idea. But bumping the SUV into a police car at the Egleston Square Citgo station is even worse. That accident happened in March 2008.

In July 2008, a police vehicle was hit from behind by a civilian while stopped on the Jamaicaway “due to a water hazard caused by the recent rains,” according to an incident report.

The report discreetly identified the driver of the police vehicle as “William Casey,” without even making it clear whether he is a police officer. In fact, he is BPD Deputy Superintendent William Casey, according to BPD Media Relations.

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