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Chief’s Corner: A Police Chief Reflects on a Tragedy

Posted by  Thursday, 21 May 2015 09:32 AM

What follows is what I wrote three days after the tragedy that occurred on April 26. We all have different ways of dealing with an event and mine is writing what I am feeling and not necessarily what the Chief of Police would publicly say.

I have been investigating accidents since August 5, 1982. My first fatal crash came two months later when a father driving a Porsche killed himself, his son and two of the son’s friends driving at a high rate of speed, most likely showing off. I have always been politically correct and sensitive, just presenting the facts without any editorial thoughts. If the horrific event that happened on Sunday has any meaning other than some candles and flowers by the side of the road, that attitude has to stop now. If you think that the chief of police should always be limited to political correctness and sensitivity, you should stop reading now.

To be blunt, if Joseph Marshall had not lost his life, he would have been charged with second degree murder. This was not going a little fast or even distracted driving, it was gross careless and negligent driving. Regardless of sympathies, we cannot lose sight that Richard Tom was killed while riding his bicycle down the shoulder of the road on one of the first decent days after a long winter, minding his own business. Although bicyclists are always aware of the inherent danger from speeding or distracted drivers, this event crossed an unimaginable line.

There were two witnesses to this event riding in the same vehicle going northbound. [Editor's Note: the driver and the cyclist were both going southbound on Route 116, at a point where the speed limit increases from 30mph to 40mph.] Joseph came around the corner at what seemed to be a hundred miles an hour. The back end of Joseph’s vehicle broke free and came within inches of hitting them. What they witnessed behind them was the vehicle hitting Richard, hurling him into the air and then the vehicle just exploded. Calling 911, the driver was unable to stop just knowing that they had to be dead. Two days later, still shaking he told his story knowing that the image of this event will never go away.

Joseph was no stranger to the Hinesburg Police regarding his driving and his vehicle. After multiple contacts, the police department had been accused of targeting him and if that was the perception, we apparently didn’t do a good enough job to alter his driving habits. I now have an officer Monday morning quarterbacking all of his dealings with Joseph and wondering if he could have done more.

Now let’s summarize this tragedy. Joseph Marshall is dead. Nobody will ever know what contributions he could have made or the direct effect he would have had on others through a lifetime that was lost at a very early age. Richard is dead. Richard’s positive influence on others has also been stopped by his death. Absolutely everybody has said he was a really wonderful person and always friendly and helpful. People that called were devastated at Richard’s death. Going through his effects to find a next of kin, his love of bicycling was beyond comprehension like no one I have ever known. When I talked to Richard’s 93 year old father, he was concerned about Joseph’s family. Neighbors and motorists who stopped to perform CPR and help will remember this scene for a long time. Hinesburg Fire and First Response who did an amazing job and particularly to the youngest members who got a dose of reality few will ever know. Bicyclists who before only had to worry about distracted and uncaring drivers now get this event in their head as they try to enjoy a nice day, while minding their own business. I have a profound respect for anyone that can be on a road with their back to traffic.

For those young people that want to honor Joseph, do more than stand at a tree for a few minutes. Realize that your actions can have devastating consequences and drive like you care and respect others just like others should be towards you. We have lost three teenagers in Hinesburg in the last several years so maybe it is time to understand that you are not invincible. Innocent victims are also not invincible.

Finally, the legacy this will leave with the Hinesburg Community Police Department. If you drive in Hinesburg with no regard to the others on the road, we will make sure that you are targeted until driving habits are either changed or you are taking a bus. Additionally, bicycles and pedestrians are seriously vulnerable to mistakes by motorists and we will have zero tolerance to unsafe driving that puts lives at risk.

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