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  1. #1
    jmur5074's Avatar
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    MN Deputy charged

    Bonnie Pitsenburger and two of her grandchildren watched in horror last summer as a helicopter carried her brother, Billy Wallace, from the intersection where his Harley-Davidson motorcycle collided with a Dakota County sheriff's deputy's squad car.

    A field-training officer riding in the squad car's passenger seat would later tell police investigating the Aug. 30 crash in Empire Township, "I could see this poor guy tumbling through the air."
    Three hours after the accident, Wallace, 58, of Farmington, was dead at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.

    Pitsenburger and her family figured they would seek some bare-bones solace from the criminal prosecution. To their disappointment, they learned the deputy who allegedly made a sudden left-hand turn from the right turn lane of Minnesota 3 in front of Wallace would not be charged with criminal vehicular homicide.

    After an investigation by the Minnesota State Patrol, the Hennepin County attorney's office on Friday charged Joshua J. Williams, 29, of Hastings, with one count of careless driving, a misdemeanor. If convicted, Williams faces up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

    "I can't believe that," said Wallace's father, Robert Geror, of Solway, Minn., who had been expecting a felony-level prosecution. "That ain't nothing."
    The day of the crash, Williams was looking for the address of a domestic disturbance. He was not responding to an emergency and did not have lights or sirens flashing when he made the illegal turn, authorities said Friday. As a result, he had no special protections from traffic laws.

    "He got a slap on the wrist, is how I see it," Pitsenburger said. "If it had been you or I doing that, you better believe we would have been charged with vehicular homicide. We would have been hung out to dry."
    Hennepin County prosecutors defended the decision to file the lesser charge against Williams, who was in the last phase of training to become a patrol officer. He joined the Dakota County Sheriff's office in February 2006.
    "If you're driving under the influence and you kill someone, that's criminal vehicular homicide," said Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Pat Diamond. "Without any chemicals involved, you have to show that the person was driving in a grossly negligent fashion. And that's different than ordinary negligence in driving a car."
    Criminal vehicular homicide is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, although four years is the sentence designated by state guidelines for first-time offenders.
    Pitsenburger knows that if convicted, Williams might not be sentenced to anywhere near the 90-day maximum for the misdemeanor charge. After a state patrolman collided with a motorcyclist in Golden Valley in October 2005, a Hennepin County judge fined the officer $500 and gave him a suspended jail sentence.
    In Williams' case, "The charging decision that they made is consistent with what we've seen in other cases," said Maj. Kent O'Grady, acting spokesman with the State Patrol.
    That comes as cold comfort to Wallace's loved ones.
    Wallace, who lived with his brother in Farmington's Countryview Mobile Home community, survived the Vietnam War, though his marriage did not. Without a family of his own, Wallace, the second oldest of 10 siblings, helped several of his sisters raise their kids. He became a caregiver and surrogate father for Pitsenburger's son, Jay Jerome Pitsenburger, who suffered a long illness as a child.
    Wallace was on his way to visit Pitsenburger when the crash occurred.
    Dakota County Chief Deputy David Bellows said Williams returned to work a few days after the accident as a court bailiff. He said the results of the criminal prosecution would guide the sheriff's office in its own internal investigation. Among its required codes of conduct, the department expects its deputies to remain law-abiding.
    "It's been hard on Deputy Williams. It's been hard on all of us," Bellows said. "Our hearts go out to the members of the Wallace family. We're out there to help save lives, and this was a very unfortunate event."

    Wallace was not wearing a helmet at the time of his accident, but his sisters said he suffered severe abdominal damage and that head injuries were not the cause of his death.

    Bill Toninato, a Farmington motorcycle enthusiast who runs an online discussion board for the 300-member Twin Cities Victory Riders, said motorcyclists should drive defensively. "But when a driver turns into you," he said, "you don't stand a chance."
    State law provides certain exemptions from the speed limit and other traffic codes for law enforcement officials who are responding to emergencies. Even in those situations, the statute indicates it "does not relieve the officer from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of persons using the street."

    Said Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Paul Scoggin, "When an officer is not engaged in an emergency response - his lights are not on, his sirens are not on - that officer has the same obligation as any other driver to follow the rules of the road."
    Dakota County referred the case to Hennepin County for investigation to avoid any potential conflict of interest.

    Were the family to file a wrongful death suit, the Dakota County attorney would have been in the position of prosecuting and then defending the deputy.
    Frederick Melo can be reached at fmelo@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-2172.
    No one has greater love than this, to lay down ones life for ones friends - John 15:13

    "The Wicked Flee When No Man Pursueth: But The Righteous Are Bold As A Lion".

    We lucky few, we band of brothers. For he who today sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~
    The opinions, beliefs, and ideas expressed in this post are mine, and mine alone. They are NOT the opinions, beliefs, ideas, or policies of my Agency, Police Chief, City Council, or any member of my department.

  2. #2
    Ducky's Avatar
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    Well, unlike a standard joe, an officer would be subject to losing his livelihood based on this incident, and may/may not ever get to work in his chosen profession again. Not exactly a slap on the wrist.
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  3. #3
    Coloradocop's Avatar
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    Plus, this was an ACCIDENT. Tragic, yes, but not malicious in nature... at least from what I read.

    In Colorado, vehicular homicide requires either a chemical influence or reckless driving as a necessary element of that crime. Under the circumstances, this sounds like careless driving, not reckless driving...

    On the face of this, had this been the "average Joe", without an accident involved, the charge would have been a simple "Turning from the wrong position"... at least from the sounds of this story.

    To me, it doesn't sound like the deputy is getting any type of special treatment or consideration.

    Just my $0.02.



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