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Chester County Press

Police chief tells State Police that crash was caused by a seizure

04/28/2015 10:01PM ● By Richard Gaw

The Chester County Press has learned that the April 13 vehicular crash involving a police vehicle driven by Kennett Township Police Chief Albert J. McCarthy and another vehicle was caused by a seizure he had at the time of the accident, a fact McCarthy admitted to the officer who reported the crash.

Through information provided to the Chester County Press by State Police Avondale, McCarthy told State Trooper Erick Baker of the State Police that he suffered from a seizure that was caused by a previous brain injury, which he said contributed to the collision of his 2015 Ford Taurus Kennett Township police vehicle with a 2006 Honda Accord driven by Michael S. Hammon, 51, of Kennett Square at approximately 12 p.m. on Hillendale Road.

The public information police report said that McCarthy was following the vehicle ahead of him too closely, and at a rate of speed that led to McCarthy's vehicle colliding with Hammon's vehicle. Both vehicles proceeded to the intersection of Hidden Pond Drive and East Hillendale Road, before they both stopped. Hammon sustained a minor injury but did not require EMS transportation. McCarthy was uninjured in the accident, and a family member picked him up from the scene.

Although McCarthy was not charged in the accident, the primary violation was identified as "VC 3310(A) Following Too Closely."

It was announced at the April 15 Kennett Township Board of Supervisors meeting that McCarthy was placed on administrative leave from his duties. The board also voted 3-0 to appoint Kennett Township officer Lydell Holt as the acting interim police chief for the township. The township will also hire two part-time police officers.

McCarthy’s administrative leave was identified as "non-disciplinary," Township Manager Lisa Moore said at the April 15 meeting. The timeline for Chief McCarthy's leave is not yet known.

On April 22, the Chester County Press the police vehicle, which had been taken to a local towing service after the crash. The front grill of the vehicle had sustained major damage, and the driver's side air bag had been partially deployed. At the request of the towing company, no photographs were taken of the vehicle.

On April 27, the State Police replied to a series of questions posed to them by the Chester County Press details about the accident. First, it was revealed that Trooper Baker had previously known of Chief McCarthy's medical condition prior to the accident, "which made him accept McCarthy's reason" for the crash, the e-mail said.

"As Troopers, we are trained to detect signs of impairment related to drug and alcohol," the e-mail read. "We do not have the training to test for a seizure or brain injury. A doctor would need to do that."

The State Police also responded to a question regarding its standard procedure for how it handles vehicular accidents caused by seizures, such as the kind McCarthy admitted to having on April 13.

"As a Trooper, the vehicle code allows us to request that someone's driving be evaluated in order to see if they are safe to be on the road," the e-mail read. "If found not safe, then [the driver's] license can be taken away."

The State Police would not disclose whether this vehicle code evaluation was done on McCarthy.

Although the State Police said that it would not respond to another police agency's policies regarding placing officers on administrative leave, it did say that if a similar incident were to occur to a State Trooper, the Trooper would be placed on administrative leave "for an extended amount of time." The Trooper would then have to be evaluated by his/her own personal doctor, as well as a doctor employed by the State Police, in order to clear them to return to patrol duty.

From the standpoint of the extent of the accidents and the reason McCarthy has admitted that caused them, his April 13 accident and one he was involved in nearly four years ago are eerily similar. While operating a police vehicle on Oct. 4, 2011 on Creek Road, just south of McFarlan Road in the township, McCarthy collided with a 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee that held Hockessin residents Paula A. Sharpe and George A. Pigford. The resulting crash led to Sharpe receiving serious personal injuries in the crash, which included acute post-traumatic lumbar spine sprain, as well as other medical problems.

During a 15-minute public re-telling of the incident, which was held at the Kennett Township Building weeks after the 2011 crash, McCarthy stated publicly that he had suffered a momentary blackout, caused by what his neurosurgeon diagnosed as an "absence seizure" which, according to scientific description, is categorized by brief (usually less than 20 seconds) generalized epileptic seizures that occur suddenly and impair consciousness.

During his re-teling, McCarthy said that the origin of these seizures dates back to August 2008, when he severely damaged his head when constructing a food bank location in Kennett Square. He said that while working, he slammed his head into a steel i-beam. The following night, 27 hours after the incident, McCarthy said that he suffered what he called "an attack" in his sleep.

After the accident, McCarthy underwent a series of several tests, which at first he said revealed little in the way of damage but later detected the presence of a mark on the brain. During a subsequent 24-hour examination at the Christiana Hospital, McCarthy was prescribed medication, and continued to monitor the effects of the drug for the next six months.

Citing negligence and carelessness on the part of McCarthy, Sharpe and Pigford then filed a personal injury lawsuit against the township in Sept. 2013, and were later awarded a substantial sum of money following the settlement of the lawsuit.

McCarthy said during his re-telling of the 2011 incident that his surgeons had told him that he would "probably not" have a re-occurence of a seizure.

In April 2014, McCarthy was awarded with a one-year contract extension in his current role, which will pay him $91,000 over the duration of the agreement. Township supervisors – Chairman Scudder Stevens and supervisors Robert Hammaker and Dr. Richard Leff -- all approved the agreement.

Under the general terms of the contract, McCarthy is responsible for the organization, operation and oversight of the police department. The contract spelled out the specifics of McCarthy's responsibilities, which requires him to submit an annual department budget, work a minimum of 40 hours a week, and be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond to emergencies that may arise in the township.

The contract also stated that McCarthy is entitled to health, medical and dental benefits through the township's group health and dental plan; as well as three weeks' vacation, long-term disability; access to two police vehicles; and be the recipient of a $100,000 life insurance policy paid for by the township.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail .

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