Local News

Former Durham Officer Makes Plea In Connection With Fatal Accident

Posted April 1, 2004

— Former Durham police Officer Alfred Rodriguez pleaded responsible Wednesday morning to running a flashing red light in connection with an accident that killed a teenager.

Rodriguez was fined $100 and will pay court costs.

Rodriguez resigned from the Durham Police Department on Tuesday.

After entering his plea Wednesday, Rodriguez stood up in court and tearfully apologized to Matthew West's family, saying that if he could bring back their son, he would.

"I'm sorry," he said.

Though the family got an apology, that was not enough.

The West family is in talks with the city regarding a wrongful death claim. If the two sides come to an agreement, the city council will have to approve any payout.

West was fatally injured when a Jeep in which he was riding collided with Rodriguez's police cruiser at the intersection of Vickers and Morehead avenues in Durham on July 22, 2003.

Co-workers said Rodriguez was devastated.

"You could see it in his eyes," co-worker Jimmy Yount said. "It really hit home with him."

In a plea agreement, Rodriguez admitted responsibilty. West's family thinks the city of Durham also shares in the blame.

"The city of Durham is responsible for the negligence of its employees," said West family attorney Jay Trehy. "Fortunately, the city has purchased $5.5 million in insurance for this very reason."

No one with the city would talk with WRAL on camera. The city attorney released a statement saying only that, as in any case, the city always attempts to settle those claims in which its officers and employees appear to be negligent.

"There's no question as to who's at fault here," Trehy said. "The city has given every indication that it will accept responsibility."

Trehy said that, for the Wests, it is not about money. It is about doing the right thing -- acknowledging the death of a 17-year-old that never should have happened.

"To measure Matthew West's life is impossible," Trehy said.

Court proceedings against Rodriguez had been postponed three times prior to Wednesday.

Rodriguez, 35, initially was charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle. That charge was dropped.


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