Thursday, April 21, 2011

Just An Accident

WPTZ-TV video frame.

As I mentioned in another post, I had a rude close encounter last month when someone in a SUV backed up at a good clip from a driveway while I was walking down a sidewalk. Fortunately all that was broken was a rib to my umbrella.

The Plattsburgh City police officer who showed up told me there was nothing that could be done; he couldn't issue a ticket. He summed up the situation with these words: "It was just an accident."

On Monday, April 15th, at approximately 12:15 PM a Plattsburgh City police vehicle was responding to a report of an accident when at the intersection of Cornelia and Beekman streets it was T-boned by a civilian vehicle. No one was critically injured but both vehicles suffered serious damage.

Even though this was just an accident it has stimulated some interesting online comments at sites sponsored by the Press-Republican and WPTZ-TV.

In a blog post I wrote last year I raised the matter of seeing Plattsburgh PD vehicles race by with only lights, no siren. So when I read the first news reports about the accident, I wondered if the police vehicle was running its siren.

I wasn't alone in asking that question. At the WPTZ-TV Facebook page, responding to the post "Traffic Alert for Plattsburgh," a couple of commenters said they had witnessed Plattsburgh PD vehicles speeding down city streets without sirens. One commenter said: "I've seen them run lights on Broad st- one nearly t-boned me but something told me to wait when the light changed- sure enough he came speeding through."

At the PR Facebook page someone wrote: "Yeah, stop abusing city police cars. How many times do cop cars use their lights without sirens to fly through red lights?"

The Plattsburgh PD was to release a statement on Tuesday morning, April 19th, which I assume was summarized in a Press-Republican article, "Officer and two others treated then released after crash." According to the article the preliminary investigation revealed that the civilian driver didn't yield the right of way and so he was issued a ticket. The Police SUV had both its lights and siren running, according to the investigation.

So it's said that the siren was activated but another detail was missing. In the newspaper article there is no mention if the driver who was ticketed had a green light, not expecting someone to run the red light. The article said the civilian driver was 84 years old, which led to some online comments about drivers who were too old to keep driving. (If the driver was young, let's say 18, then critical comments would have been about him being too young to drive.)

I went to the Plattsburgh PD site but I didn't see a press release about the preliminary investigation or a copy of the statement posted there. I did find a couple of items about unwanted cats being up for adoption. So I don't know if the police SUV was passing through the intersection against a red light.

So what difference does it make if the police vehicle was passing through a red light, even with its lights and siren on? I'm not a legal expert but I can still Google and see what the law says. Checking New York State Vehicle and Traffic Laws online, a police vehicle is defined as an authorized emergency vehicle when responding to an accident or other such incidents (section 114-b).

Under Title 7, RULES OF THE ROAD, Article 23 - OBEDIENCE TO AND EFFECT OF TRAFFIC LAWS, it's stated:

(b) The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle may:
1. Stop, stand or park irrespective of the provisions of this title;
2. Proceed past a steady red signal, a flashing red signal or a stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation;
3. Exceed the maximum speed limits so long as he/she does not endanger life or property;
4. Disregard regulations governing directions of movement or turning in specified directions.

So #2 and #3 seem to be sticking points. If the police SUV went through the red light, the driver was supposed to slow down "as may be necessary for safe operation." Of course, defining "as may be necessary for safe operation" is open to interpretation. And there's also some room for debate to determine at what point an emergency vehicle driver is endangering life or property. Something for a court of law will have to decide if there's a lawsuit.

That said, both the police vehicle and the civilian car did sustain considerable damage as seen in online photos and a video.

A lot of stuff to think about from what was just an accident.

Of course, the Plattsburgh PD could clarify this issue by publishing at its Website a press release answering the questions raised by the public with a copy of its preliminary investigation about the accident.

Until next time, please drive carefully.


tourpro said...

How much is being spent to "maintain" that PPD website? It seems useless.

Anonymous said...

PPD should turn its website over to persons who represent the public interest. As things stand at present, PPD has ample representation on local electronic media (Stephanie Goren is the wife of the chief), so they should allow the civilian public to comment openly.