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Police Officer Causes Multiple Deaths, Injuries, in Distracted Driving Incident
Should the police be expected to follow the same traffic regulations as the citizenry?
SPRINGFIELD, MA—Think your driving is bad? Wait until you hear about the distracted driving crash this Springfield, Massachusetts, police officer caused.
Officer Lonnie Hillborn, of the Springfield, Massachusetts, Police Department, lost control of his police car while driving distracted. The vehicle rolled nine times, killing eight motorists and 17 schoolchildren riding on a bus, and injuring eleven more. Hillborn’s police cruiser was destroyed. The rolling cruiser toppled an electrical pole and a stoplight. An unidentified homeless woman was crushed to death when the cruiser rolled onto her.
Chief of Police Morgan Grahamauer (pronounced ‘grammar’) called the incident “something that happens, but not our worst.”
Hillborn was heading east on Ducksworth Avenue, a road with a speed limit of 35 miles an hour, at about 50 miles an hour. Hillborn claimed he was pursuing a speeder.
An investigation conducted by the Springfield Police Department’s Division of Internal Affairs revealed that, in addition to driving his vehicle, Hillborn was performing ten other tasks:
- texting his wife on his personal cell phone,
- talking to his supervisor, Sgt. Ockman, on his department-issued phone,
- reviewing a recent domestic disturbance call on a mobile data terminal,
- driving with his right knee,
- responding to a radio call,
- reaching for his cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee,
- adjusting his Kevlar vest,
- attempting to tie his left shoe,
- lighting a cigarette,
- and looking over his right shoulder at a jaywalker, whom Hillborn stated after the crash that he intended to ticket for failure to cross at a properly designated crosswalk.
The pedestrian Hillborn spotted moments before the crash was arrested and is being held without bail in the Springfield city jail for interfering with official police duties.
Officer Hillborn was suspended for three days, with pay, and ordered to take a 12-hour course sanctioned by the National Safe Highway Undertaking Commission (NSHUC), called ENTITLEMENT DRIVING FOR THOSE WHO ENFORCE THE LAW. The course details tips for managing distracted driving, is highly classified, and is not available to the general public.
The victims in the Hillborn incident are planning to settle out of court in a class action lawsuit, which attorney Laura Schlott estimates will net each victim “about $80.”
“This will be a big, big, awesomely big win for the people of Springfield and the justice system,” said Schlott. “The police must be held accountable.”
The President for the Springfield Coalition of Police Accountability (SCoPAc), proctologist Dr. Anne Reckle, says that the incident is offensive, patronizing, outrageous, ludicrous, derisive, absurd, nonsensical, lowbrow, evil, and fetid given the nature of the incident.
Reckle says that this incident is another example of the Springfield Police Department’s failure to live up to its mission statement, which can be found on the department’s website:
“To provide public safety and to contribute to the quality of life for the citizens of the City of Springfield by protecting, serving and working with the community to develop philosophies which promote equity and establish partnership between citizens and police to enhance law enforcement, aid in the prevention of crime, and preserve the public peace.”
“At a minimum, Hillborn should lose his badge,” said Reckle.
Police Chief Grahamauer disagreed in a press conference, saying that stripping Officer Hillborn of his badge would be too extreme.
Grahamauer defended his decision to suspend, and not terminate, Officer Hillborn.
“Officer Hillborn is one of the finest officers I’ve ever worked with. I had him over for a barbecue this weekend, and visited with him today in my office to talk the thing over. He’s sorry it happened, and I believe him. [Hillborn] was just doing his job, doing his duty, when the incident occurred. Listen, folks: there’s too much going on for an officer to be thinking about just driving while driving. While we regret things happened the way they did, we are mindful that we have to set a precedent for dealing with our officers. If they feel that they will be persecuted for doing their jobs, what’s the likelihood you think they’ll continue to do those jobs? Just when you need them most, they won’t be available. Or they will be available but they’ll say they won’t. Something to think about. It’s a tit for tat, scratch a back and I’ll scratch. It’s called community relations, also. Sometimes it can be called civic pride. But we call it our jobs.”
Police Chief Grahamauer further excused Hillborn’s actions by stating that his officers are not perfect, and that all parties involved should remain positive.
“We have no pretensions to perfection,” Grahamauer said. “Our lives are as routine as anybody’s. We make mistakes. We like to look on the bright side. The brightness is that we could have had a lot more casualties than we did. These things can turn into an apocalypse. Our officer could have been killed, for example. That helps us all rest a little easier that he’s still with us. It is what it is.”
Grahamauer also said that in a “brief but heartfelt” conversation with Officer Hillborn, he was reminded again that self-driving police cruisers will increase safety “a good deal, a certain percentage upward, toward a safety threshold.” He then called on the city council of Springfield to triple the department’s budget.
Chief Grahamauer took no questions at the press conference.
“We are looking into this matter,” he said, “until we see it with hindsight clearly in the rear view. Stay tuned.”
Protestors took to the steps of city hall to complain against Grahamauer’s handling of the situation.
One protestor brought a sign. “What about the children?” it read.
Such distracted driving among Springfield police officers is not unique. Since 2016, the Springfield Police Department is responsible for causing 87 fatalities and 392 injuries related to distracted driving. None of the officers involved in these incidents have sustained injury, been killed, or lost their positions in the Department.
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