Report: Trooper felt pressured to handle Perdue's 1995 wreck
Posted March 10, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. — A former Highway Patrol trooper said he felt pressure from his superiors to file a cursory accident report following a 1995 wreck involving then-Sen. Beverly Perdue, according to an internal affairs report obtained Thursday by WRAL Investigates.
Perdue was involved in a single-car accident on July 4, 1995, after leaving a north Raleigh restaurant. She said the wreck occurred on Lassiter Mill Road, and her Cadillac was towed to a nearby dealership for repair.
The following day, Perdue told Major C.D. Blackman of the Highway Patrol that the wreck caused minor damage to her car and asked him whether she needed to fill out a report. Blackman told investigators that the senator was concerned that there could be "a lot said about it" if she had caused property damage and didn't report it, according to the internal affairs report.
Perdue told Blackman that she had tried to call Capt. C.I. Stroud of the Highway Patrol the night of the accident "because they were good friends," but she was unable to reach him, the report states.
"The only thing I'm concerned about is that she's a supporter of the Highway Patrol. We want this thing to get, (not) to turn out in a bad way," Blackman was quoted as telling Stroud.
Blackman and Stroud then asked First Sgt. T.L. Cheek to fill out an accident report.
Cheek told investigators that Blackman told him he needed to do a favor for "a very influential friend," an allegation Blackman denied.
The three troopers drove along Lassiter Mill Road to see if they could determine where the wreck occurred, but they couldn't find any property damage to indicate a recent collision, the report states.
Cheek didn't talk to Perdue or examine the damage to her car, but he filled out an accident report listing the site of the wreck as 0.3 miles off Glenwood Avenue and listing Perdue's speed at the time of the wreck at 35 mph.
The form Cheek said he was told to use is supposed to be only for wrecks involving less than $500 damage. Perdue's insurance company paid her a $2,850 claim on the incident, the report shows.
"We should've went and looked at the car," Stroud told investigators, "but we were going on what she said, you know, and I had no reason to disbelieve what she said."
In hindsight, he told investigators it was a "shoddy investigation, no doubt about it."
Cheek said he felt uncomfortable filling out the accident report without investigating the incident, but he felt his superiors wanted it done.
"I knew it was wrong when I did it," Cheek told investigators, "but I was afraid I'd get barbecued if I didn't."
Both Blackman and Stroud said they didn't get the impression that Cheek was intimidated by the case.
The report doesn't state that Perdue personally pressured the Highway Patrol or asked for special treatment. It also makes no mention of whether alcohol was a factor in the wreck.
Perdue said in 1995 that alcohol wasn't involved, saying only, "I might have had a glass of wine."
She also denied at the time that she obtained preferential treatment, although she asked the Highway Patrol about the wreck instead of reporting it to Raleigh police.
"I happened to be in a hall where there was a law enforcement official, and maybe that could be termed preferential. I don't believe it is," she said in 1995.
A grand jury investigation at the time produced no evidence of wrongdoing.
Following an internal investigation, Cheek was given an verbal warning and told to complete a more in-depth accident report. No one else was disciplined in the case.
Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson issued a statement Thursday reiterating that the governor still believes the case was handled properly.
"Fifteen years ago, Gov. Perdue self-reported a single-car accident because she thought it was the right thing to do. She didn't then nor does she today believe the Highway Patrol showed her any favoritism. They simply took a report, she fixed her car, and that was that," Pearson said.
The Highway Patrol had no comment on the report Thursday. Cheek has since died, and Blackman and Stroud have retired.