Local News

Durham Officer On Administrative Duty After Patrol Car Collides With Jeep

Posted July 22, 2003

— Durham police investigate thousands of accidents. But an accident that occurred early Tuesday has caused pain for both the victim's family and the department.

A Durham officer has been placed on administrative duty after a crash that nearly killed a teenager.

The wreck happened around 1:05 a.m. at the intersection of Morehead and Vickers Avenue.

Police said the right front of a 1999 Jeep Wrangler driven by 17-year-old Benjamin G. Culler of Durham collided with the driver's-side passenger compartment of a 2001 Ford patrol car driven by Officer Alfred Rodriguez.

The Jeep was southbound on Vickers Avenue, and the patrol car was going east on Morehead Avenue.

The patrol car did not stop at a flashing red light, according to a preliminary report from the Police Department's Traffic Services Division.

The impact caused the Jeep to spin around and strike the curb.

A passenger in the back seat of the Jeep, Matthew P. West, 17, of Hillsborough, was ejected. The patrol car spun around and came to rest on Morehead Avenue.

West suffered a serious head injury and was taken to Duke University Hospital. Culler suffered minor injuries, and Rodriguez was not injured.

"It touches us emotionally," Lt. N.J. Blake said, "and not only touches us as police oficers. Our hearts and minds also go out to the family of the victim."

Officer Rodriguez could face traffic violations for the crash. But it is unlikely he would face any civil liability under what's called "Government Immunity." But the city of Durham could be held responsible.

The officer was on duty at the time of the crash but was not responding to an emergency call. He will be off patrol while his colleagues conduct an internal investigation.

West remained in critical condition at Duke Hospital's neurological intensive care unit Tuesday night. Police don't know if he was wearing a seatbelt.


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