Crime

Trooper won’t be charged, but Bellingham pedestrians ticketed in collision with patrol car

A state trooper won’t face any consequences for hitting two pedestrians with his patrol car in December 2014, but both pedestrians were handed a $112 ticket as the result of a Washington State Patrol investigation.

Around 1 a.m. Friday, Dec. 19, 2014, Aaron Connors-Driftmier, 31, and Lauren Keenan, 21, were walking along Lakeway Drive. They were on their way home from The Shakedown in downtown Bellingham, where they had some drinks. It was dark, lightly raining, and they both had on dark clothes.

They stopped at the intersection of Lakeway Drive and the southbound Interstate 5 on-ramp. They pressed the crosswalk button, but they didn’t see any cars coming so they decided to walk despite a “do not cross” signal. They were halfway through the crosswalk when a Washington State Patrol car making a left turn from westbound Lakeway Drive struck them. Connors-Driftmier landed on the hood of the car, then rolled off. He suffered injuries to his leg and neck. Lauren Keenan also was hit and was bleeding from her head.

After a months-long investigation by the Washington State Patrol, both pedestrians were eventually issued tickets for failure to obey a posted sign, while the driver of the patrol car, Brian D. Thompson, 55, did not face any administrative consequences or criminal charges.

Keenan and Connors-Driftmier both admitted they had crossed illegally, but they think it is unfair that Thompson was not held accountable for his role in the collision.

“If it wasn’t a state trooper, this would be a whole different story,” Connors-Driftmier said in an interview two days after the collision. “I just feel like he was in the wrong for not driving safely, either.”

Minutes before the collision, Thompson had been driving eastbound on Lakeway Drive when he saw two cars headed in the opposite direction. His radar indicated one car was going 33 mph in a 25 mph zone, according to Washington State Patrol investigation reports obtained by The Bellingham Herald through a public records request.

Thompson flipped a U-turn and tried to catch up to the car. The report, written by Washington State Patrol Detective Craig Cardinal, who conducted the investigation, said the car Thompson was chasing took the ramp to southbound I-5 approximately eight seconds before Thompson reached the intersection. The light showed a green arrow for a left turn to the on-ramp, the report said, and Thompson struck the two people as he turned.

Thompson told other troopers he was going 15-20 mph when he hit the pedestrians. No report from the troopers mentioned any further investigation of the patrol car’s speed.

Seconds after the collision, Thompson stopped the car and activated his emergency lights. According to Thompson’s own written report, Connors-Driftmier rocked back and forth on the pavement and complained of neck pain in the moments after the collision. Keenan had an abrasion on her head. Paramedics arrived and determined both had no serious injuries. Paramedics and troopers offered to take them to the hospital, but both refused.

Several troopers watched the dash cam video taken from the patrol car. One trooper wrote in his report that Thompson had a solid green light. Thompson told investigators he had a green arrow.

The Washington State Patrol has not yet released the dash cam video of the incident.

Connors-Driftmier and Keenan believed Thompson was trying to make the light before it turned yellow. Keenan said there was no green arrow for Thompson, but instead a solid green light that was about to turn yellow, which she said is why she thought it was safe to walk. She also said he used a turn signal, and his patrol car’s flashing police lights were off.

Keenan said she later went to the hospital for her injuries —torn knee ligaments — and has ongoing knee issues. She had to take a week off work, without pay, and then had to move back in with her dad because she couldn’t afford rent.

Connors-Driftmier said he went to the hospital the day after he was hit because of concerns about his neck. They told him nothing was broken and that he should take ibuprofen for soreness.

Both pedestrians were interviewed at the scene by Detective Cardinal an hour after they were hit. According to a transcript of those interviews, Cardinal asked multiple questions about their alcohol consumption, details about where they were hit, and if they crossed during a “do not walk” signal. Both pedestrians told Cardinal they thought Thompson was going fast. Keenan said she thought Thompson was speeding up before the car hit her. Connors-Driftmier, who admitted he was drunk, told Cardinal he never saw a turn signal.

“Now the car that struck you then, were the headlights on?” Cardinal asked that night.

“Yeah but I didn’t see a turn signal or anything,” Connors-Driftmier said.

No written report mentions whether or not Thompson used a turn signal.

Multiple officers said they smelled a “strong odor of intoxicants” on both individuals, so they administered voluntary breath tests to the two pedestrians after interviews. Connors-Driftmier’s blood alcohol content was measured at 0.176, more than double the legal limit for driving. Keenan’s was 0.025, well below that limit.

Mark Francis, Washington State Patrol spokesman, said the intoxication of pedestrians is relevant in a case like this because it allows troopers to be thorough in their investigation.

“Their decision-making was impaired,” he said. “We want to know all of the mitigating factors that play a part in a collision.”

Nowhere did any trooper’s report mention Thompson undergoing a breath or blood test.

As to the trooper not facing any discipline, Francis assured that any driver would go without consequences in the same situation, whether they were in law enforcement or not.

“There is not an expectation for him to see clearly with that weather and with that level of darkness,” Francis said.

Keenan disagrees.

“Both of us were wrong; he should have seen us, and we shouldn’t have jaywalked,” Keenan said. “But we had to suffer pain, we had to suffer injuries, and we had to suffer loss of work.”

And, on top of that, a $112 ticket.

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