PLATTSBURGH — A late-night October car crash is turning into a New Year’s headache for one local man.
Jonathan "Jon" Parker, 27, recently received a letter from Plattsburgh City Police’s insurance company saying that the department was off the hook for the crash on Oct. 26.
In the early morning hours of that day, a police patrol car collided with the front end of Parker’s vehicle after going through the stop sign on Marion Street while turning up Clinton Street, an incident that Mayor Colin Read estimates will cost the city at least $75,000.
"I've been a pizza delivery driver for about 4 years at Pizza Bono, so I've driven up that road thousands of times," Parker said. "I remember seeing the Plattsburgh City Police stickers on the side of the car; I was in disbelief."
'OFFICER AT FAULT'
The officer was giving chase to a suspect that police believed may have stabbed someone in the downtown area.
"They proceeded through an intersection (with Clinton Street) as carefully as possible, but collided with another vehicle," City Police Chief Levi Ritter said in October.
"There’s no good way to say this; the officer was at fault."
Ritter declined to name the officer who was driving the vehicle, but did say those involved were injured, though not hospitalized.
For privacy reasons, the chief added, he was not able to discuss disciplinary measures taken with officers.
Parker said that one of the officers involved on the night of Oct. 26 has reached out to him apologizing and admitting fault for the accident, offering to help Parker, but Ritter could not confirm if that officer was the driver, saying, "We don't identify officers that aren't subject to a criminal investigation."
A dashcam video dated and timestamped as the early morning hours of Oct. 26, given to Parker from a "good samaritan" who had parked their car on Clinton Street, appears to show Parker's car driving up Clinton Street before the front end gets clipped by a City Police SUV coming off of Marion Street. No sirens or flashing lights could be seen.
"Our department submitted all documents, images and videos, both police and private citizen, for full transparency to the city's insurance carrier," Ritter said this week.
"We were not aware of the determination that the insurance company made until just last week.”
But it was the fact that the officer was chasing a suspect that made the difference for the insurance company.
The letter that Parker received from Tokio Marine HCC, the company that administers insurance claims for the City of Plattsburgh, said that the incident occurred "during the course of a call to duty by our insured police vehicle", which, under Section 1104 of the New York State Vehicle and Traffic law, makes the operator of the police vehicle immune from fault unless they are "operating in a reckless manner."
The letter continued, saying that the company’s investigation found "no evidence to suggest that the alleged actions of the operator of the emergency police vehicle would meet the 'reckless disregard' standard."
EXERCISE ALL RIGHTS
This decision, combined with the fact that Parker only had liability insurance on his totaled 2012 Honda Civic meant that the pizza delivery driver had no choice but to dip into savings to buy a car, putting him behind on rent and other bills.
"I need a car for my job so I had to use the little savings I had and get a new one," Parker said. "I just never thought this would happen. I believed it would be quick and easy. It was clear as day that it was their fault."
Parker said that he would like to fight the decision, but has so far had a hard time finding a lawyer who will take up a case against the city.
Read said Tuesday that he had taken interest in the case
"It's tragic that something so unfortunate is taking so much time to resolve," Read said. "A vehicle owner had his car totaled for absolutely no fault of his own.
"I am asking our attorney to look further into why this claim has been denied, and am encouraging the vehicle owner to exercise all his rights in this process."
NEW COP CAR
Per City Chamberlain Richard Marks, the city's insurance paid $14,500 to replace the police car damaged in the October accident.
"Since then, the city has purchased a replacement vehicle costing $14,000 with low mileage, a new engine and equipped for use," Marks said.
"Therefore the city has an additional $500, from the insurance proceeds versus replacement vehicle purchase, to further equip the replacement car, if necessary."
The value of the claim, Marks added, would not push the city's insurance claims experience over the level that would require a premium increase, "or that of a 35 percent loss ratio."
— Staff Writer McKenzie Delisle contributed to this report.
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