Danbury Police Officer Jamie Hodge Charged With Reckless Driving After Fatal Crash

Four days following the accident, state police said the ejected passenger, Tiffany Fitzgerald, 26, was pronounced dead at Danbury Hospital. Tiffany Fitzgerald, right, is shown here posing with her sister, Amanda Fitzgerald.
Four days following the accident, state police said the ejected passenger, Tiffany Fitzgerald, 26, was pronounced dead at Danbury Hospital. Tiffany Fitzgerald, right, is shown here posing with her sister, Amanda Fitzgerald.

DANBURY — A former Danbury police officer has been charged with reckless driving for his part in a high-speed chase last December that ended in a spectacular crash and the death of a young woman.

Jamie Hodge, 39, of Danbury, turned himself in to State Police on Friday after a months-long investigation of the chase that led through downtown and onto Mountainville Road, where the fleeing car ran into a utility pole and rolled over several times.

Tiffany Fitzgerald, 26, a passenger in the fleeing car, was thrown to the ground and died several days later from her injuries. The driver, Ricardo Andre, was wanted on several warrants and was taken into custody on his release from the hospital.

Hodge’s conduct in the chase had been questioned from the first.

According to police reports, he was working off-duty Dec. 1 at a construction site when he spotted Andre, whom he recognized from previous police encounters, driving a Ford Explorer that had been reported stolen. Telling the construction crew he would “be right back,” he jumped into his own car, a Chevy Tahoe, and followed.
Hodge later told investigators that when the Explorer stopped for a red light at South Street and Town Hill Avenue, he got out and walked toward it. When the driver sped off, Hodge said, he got back into his car and again followed, at a distance up to 250 yards.

Shortly afterward, two Danbury fire officials were stopped for a red light at Main and South streets when they saw the Explorer speed through the intersection, followed closely by the Chevy. Both officials later told investigators that both vehicles were moving at “highway speeds” and that the distance between them was no more than 20 yards.

Hodge told investigators that he lost sight of the Explorer and didn’t catch up to it until after the crash. But witnesses said he appeared almost immediately afterward, while one of them was just making the call to 911.

Andre later told police he had gotten “a little high” earlier that evening at a Danbury crack house, where he had met Fitzgerald for the first time. He said she had asked for his help in obtaining drug paraphernalia and for a ride to an area hotel.

Andre had several warrants for his arrest at the time of the chase and was facing two years in prison for a previous conviction. He was also wanted on charges stemming from another pursuit in September 2015. Court records show that the pursuing officer in that case gave up the chase when Andre began driving the wrong way on Main Street.

State police were called into the investigation soon after the accident. Their 14-page report, released Friday, concludes that Hodge was driving “at a rate of speed as to endanger the life of any person.”
A review of department policies by The News-Times found that pursuits for non-violent offenses, including motor vehicle violations and property-related crimes, are prohibited in Danbury.

“A motor vehicle pursuit is only allowed when dangerous or violent felonies such as murder, armed robbery, violent sexual assault and DUI are involved,” the policy states.

Hodge’s Chevy Tahoe was not equipped with emergency warning devices such as lights and sirens. Department policy stresses that “audible warning devices” be used in all pursuits.

One expert on police chases told the News-Times that conducting a high-speed chase without lights or sirens, particularly in a crowded downtown area, is “asking for catastrophe.”

Attorney Elliot Spector, who represents Hodge, said at no time did his client put others at risk,and that his following the Explorer should not be considered a “pursuit.”

“He was in control of his vehicle at all times and was aware of traffic in the area so as to enable him to drive without risk to others or himself,” Spector said.

Concerning the statements by fire officials, Spector said, “This is a matter of perception and I suspect the distance may be somewhere in the middle.”

“You have to remember the dynamics of the situation and what was going on,” he continued.
Hodge, who resigned from the force earlier this year, had been on the Danbury force about a year when the crash occurred and had no disciplinary events in his record.

The department launched an internal investigation shortly after the incident. Chief Patrick Ridenhour said Saturday that he can’t comment directly on the State Police investigation, but he added that police officers are regularly reminded about department policies including chase procedures.

Hodge turned himself in to police about 7 p.m. on Friday after learning about the warrant for his arrest. He was released from custody on a $2,500 bond and is expected to appear in Superior Court in Waterbury on Aug. 22.
Tiffany Fitzgerald’s father, Tim, said he began to cry Friday when he learned that Hodge had been charged only with a single misdemeanor.

“I’m at a loss of words and in complete shock,” he said. “My daughter is gone, she can never come back, and all the officer got was a slap on the wrist.

“That’s not justice, not for anyone who was involved,” Fitzgerald said. “If it was a civilian involved, they probably would be facing a manslaughter charge.”

Source: http://www.newstimes.com