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Evidence Preserved in Fatal Squad Car Crash - Attorney Hoping to Determine Speed, Other Details Accident

February 24, 2002

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Evidence Preserved in Fatal Squad Car Crash - Attorney Hoping to Determine Speed, Other Details Accident

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by Bob Kasarda, Times

VALPARAISO -- The Portage police department has agreed to preserve equipment and information that could shed light on the details of a recent fatal accident involving one of its squad cars.

The agreement was sought by attorney Robert Harper on behalf of the family of 24-year-old Timothy Munchenburg of Hobart, who was one of two people killed in the Jan. 10 crash.The police department agreed to keep the 1999 Ford Crown Victoria in a safe place until it can be determined what steps, if any, can be taken to retrieve information from a sensory device within the vehicle, according to the agreement entered into Tuesday morning.

The sensory device is designed to record vehicle information. What Harper hopes to learn is how fast the squad car was traveling at the time of the accident. Police say the car was moving between 78 to 85 mph, yet Harper said he heard the car was traveling at a much higher speed.Harper said Tuesday he intends to hire an accident reconstruction expert from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., to download and interpret the information from the squad car's sensory device. He plans to contact the school within a day or so.

The police department also has agreed to hold on to any audio and/or video tapes recorded from within any of the squad cars at the accident scene. The squad car involved in the accident did not have its lights and sirens on at the time of the collision, which meant the video camera would not likely have been running, Harper said. The hope is other cars did have their cameras on and recorded details about the accident site, he said.

The agreement also requires the police department to preserve radio traffic that occurred on the day of the accident, with particular emphasis on the broadcasts made one hour before and two hours after the accident. Computer records of traffic between the department and cars also is to be preserved.

The department also agreed to preserve any recordings of telephone calls made from the department within the hour before and two hours after the accident.Harper and Portage city attorney Gregg Sobkowski said they were pleased with the agreement.

The information is being gathered in preparation for a civil lawsuit against the department by Munchenburg's family. Harper said he will take the first step toward that action within the next few days, which will involve putting the city on notice a lawsuit is coming.

The fatal crash occurred at 3 a.m. Jan. 10 at U.S. 6 and Swanson Road as Officer Dennis Bailey was responding to a call at Camelot Manor.Bailey was traveling westbound on U.S. 6 when the eastbound car driven by Munchenburg turned in front of him to go north on Swanson Road.

Bailey's squad car did not have its lights and sirens on at the time of the collision and Munchenburg's blood alcohol concentration was twice the legal limit.A passenger in Munchenburg's car, 23-year-old Toni Paxson of Portage, also was killed in the crash.

Bailey suffered minor injuries.The state police investigation into the crash said the main cause was Munchenburg's intoxication and failure to yield, although the officer's failure to activate his emergency lights presented a "lack of due regard." Prosecutors decided to issue the officer a speeding ticket.

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