No ticket likely for trooper in rollover

A Colorado State Patrol trooper who rolled his patrol car while responding to an accident probably won't receive a reckless driving ticket, CSP officials said.

Trooper Marty Smith totaled the patrol car he was driving when he swerved to miss a deer while responding to an accident a few miles east of Craig on May 25.

Smith was responding to a one-vehicle rollover when the patrol car skidded off the right-hand side of the road and rolled twice down an embankment, landing on its wheels. The trooper escaped the accident with minor injuries, but he has not received a physician's release to return to work, said Sgt. Gary Meirose of Colorado State Patrol.

Meirose said the department will do a full investigation of the accident, but it's unclear whether Smith will receive a ticket. Meirose said the CSP wouldn't disclose, what, if any, punishment would be administered in the case because it is a personnel matter.

But, Meirose said that issuing a ticket to the trooper would be the most lax punishment possible.

"If I were to give Marty (Smith) a citation, there would be no other punishment doled out," he said. "If there's no ticket, the punishment might be worse."

But an investigation has to be complete before a decision is made in the matter. That starts with Smith writing up his version of the incident. That report is passed to Meirose, who will forward it and write a memo that will be transferred to the station's director, Capt. Brett Williams. Meirose said it is up to the captain whether the case is decided by head of regional Troop 4B Maj. Michael King in Grand Junction.

King said he reviews every accident in the district "to make sure we're doing the right things."

He said the matter would be decided after Smith is allowed to return to work. Smith is on paid leave.

King said that the CSP doesn't hold the public accountable for car versus deer accidents unless there are extenuating circumstances.

"We don't hold the public accountable for car versus deer accidents," King said.

However, drivers may be issued tickets if they swerve out of their lane to miss hitting deer or if a trooper determines an accident could have been avoided, Meirose said. Although he said he may issue tickets for those kinds of accidents in about 5 percent of the car verses deer accidents he covers.

Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead said he contacted CSP about concerns his deputies had with the accident.

CSP issued a ticket to deputy Courtland Folks for a February 2003 incident in which he hit another vehicle in an intersection while responding to a call.

Grinstead said he thought the patrol would handle Smith's accident with parity.

"I have the utmost confidence in their ability to handle it well," he said. "He may not get a ticket, but I think they'll handle it internally."

Meirose would not say how fast Smith was traveling at the time of the rollover, but he said it was faster than the posted 50-mph limit.

Smith was not available for comment late Wednesday.

Meirose said that troopers might be more prone to get into accidents because they constantly are on the road. But, he said punishments are doled out based on whether it is determined that an accident is "chargeable."

A "chargeable" accident may be one in which a trooper hits a tree or another vehicle. Another trooper, who Meirose wouldn't name, incurred three of five "chargeable" accidents. Punishments included a 5 percent cut to his paycheck for a month; the next punishment included a 5 percent cut for two months.

But Trooper Rob Baughman, who retired from the CSP recently after more than two decades on the job, hit deer 18 times, Meirose said.

In the two accidents that occurred during the time Meirose has been sergeant, or for the past two years, the terrain was such that the trooper couldn't see the deer, the sergeant said.

"A car verses a deer wreck is not chargeable," Meirose said.

"You probably won't find out what happens," he added about whether a decision on the trooper's reprimand, if any, will be made public. "It's none of your business. We'll tell you it's taken care of."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com

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