Md. officer ran stop sign in crash that killed colleague
KELLY BREWINGTON, SUN REPORTER
Baltimore police Officer Raymond E. Cook Jr. sped through a stop sign at an intersection before his cruiser collided with another police car this month, killing Officer Anthony A. Byrd, according to a report released by the department yesterday. (Read Officer Byrd's officer down)
Deputy Police Commissioner Marcus Brown said failing to halt at a stop sign is a severe infraction that could lead to Cook's dismissal.
"It's extremely serious," he said. "Failing to stop at a stop sign that resulted in the injury of a person is about as serious as it gets."
Police officers are required to stop at all stop signs and stoplights, even when responding to an emergency call with their lights and sirens activated, to ensure that the intersection is clear before going through. They also cannot speed more than 10 mph over the posted limit.
The preliminary report released yesterday offers the first glimpse into the early morning crash May 19 that devastated the department.
The collision occurred about 2:40 a.m. a block from the Southwestern District station house, where both officers worked. Byrd, 31, and an 11-year veteran of the department, died at St. Agnes Hospital about an hour after the crash. Cook, 36, who has worked for the department for a decade, was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center and released a day later.
Byrd was returning to the station on Font Hill Avenue, while Cook was on his way to back up another officer on a domestic disturbance call.
Cook, the report states, drove through the intersection near Parksley Avenue "at a high rate of speed after failing to stop at the northbound stop sign."
The car then struck Byrd's cruiser at the right passenger door, causing the vehicle to swing around clockwise, slamming driver's-side first into a utility pole, crushing the pole with the force of the collision, the report said.
Brown said it is too early to say whether Cook will be disciplined or if criminal charges will be sought. The department will first review a full investigation report, which might take weeks to complete, said Brown.
Key to that investigation will be the findings from the "black box" of each cruiser, which should reveal information such as whether the officers were wearing seat belts, the amount of pressure that the drivers placed on the gas and brake pedals and the speed each car was traveling at the time of impact.
Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office, said yesterday that she had not seen the preliminary report and that it was too early to determine if her office would seek criminal charges.
"It's certainly premature for us to be reviewing this," she said. "We will await a full report from the accident reconstruction specialists as well as other reports from the medical examiner."
Reached by telephone yesterday, Cook said he would not comment while the investigation is in progress.
Brown said Cook, who is on medical leave, has been distraught over the accident. "His reaction has been an extreme amount of remorse about what happened," Brown said.
Paul M. Blair Jr., president of Baltimore's Fraternal Order of Police, said he had not yet seen the report so he could not comment specifically.
"Anytime you're involved in a serious accident, when some type of death occurred, you're subject to punishment," Blair said. "We all serve at the pleasure of the police commissioner."
Cook has been involved in "preventable accidents" in the past, the deputy commissioner said.
In 1997, Cook was involved in a traffic crash that resulted in an $1,800 out-of-court settlement, according to court documents. Cook's car ran a red light and struck another vehicle at Edmondson and Athol avenues, according to a lawsuit filed by the passenger of the car that was hit. Attorneys for the city said Cook was responding to an emergency and had his lights and sirens on at the time of the crash.
Collisions involving police cruisers have been a concern of the department for some time.
Seven of the past 11 officers to die on the job were killed in vehicle crashes, and many more have been involved in nonfatal accidents.
"It's a tragedy what occurred," Brown said. "It should send a message to every officer."
Sun reporter Nicole Fuller contributed to this article.
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