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Chester County Press

More details emerge in McCarthy's vehicular accident

06/02/2015 02:37PM ● By Richard Gaw
The fact that an entire room of people – Kennett Township residents, fellow police officers, and his friends and family – stood and applauded long-time Kennett Township Police Chief Albert J. McCarthy at his retirement ceremony on May 20 at the Kennett Township building, came as little surprise to anyone there.

Everyone had their reasons for standing. Some were applauding the more than four decades McCarthy put into his law enforcement career – 42 years, to be exact – beginning when he was a patrol officer and extending to his tenure as both Police Chief of the Kennett Square Borough and the Police Chief for Kennett Township. Some simply applauded the man that they had come to know as a father, an uncle, a brother, an associate and a trusted friend of the community he served.

At their most effective, retirement ceremonies, much like commencement exercises, signify a clean ending, and as the accolades poured down on the 64-year-old McCarthy on that recent evening, he spoke about moving onto the next phase of his life after a long career in the service of others. However, as the ceremony held at the conclusion of the Board of Supervisors meeting served to place a lid on McCarthy's career, one very slim folder, stemming from a recent vehicular accident involving the now-retired police chief, remains open.

On April 13, just before noon on East Hillendale Road in Kennett Township, McCarthy, while operating a 2015 Ford Taurus police vehicle, was involved in a two-car collision with 51-year-old Michael S. Hammon of Kennett Square. Through the cooperation of the State Police Avondale, the Chester County Press obtained an initial public information police report about the accident, which stated 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 2006 black Honda Accord.

The report stated that both vehicles proceeded to the intersection of Hidden Pond Drive and East Hillendale Road, before they both stopped. The report also stated that 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."

On April 27, the State Police replied to a series of questions posed to them by the Chester County Press about the accident. First, it was revealed that McCarthy told attending State Trooper Erick Baker of the State Police that he had suffered from a momentary seizure that was caused by a previous brain injury. Second, it was revealed that Trooper Erick Baker had known of McCarthy's medical condition prior to the accident, "which made him accept McCarthy's reason" for the crash, the e-mail said.

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."

This information came 12 days after the township's board of supervisors voted 3-0 to place McCarthy on administrative leave from his duties, and appoint Kennett Township Officer Lydell Nolt as the acting interim police chief, as well as hire two additional part-time police officers.

McCarthy formally resigned from his position on May 7.

In recent weeks, the Chester County Press has obtained additional information that tells a more complete version of what happened on East Hillendale Road on April 13.

The complete police crash report, compiled by the State Police, stated that McCarthy was following Hammon's vehicle as both were heading east on Hillendale Road, and that McCarthy was driving at a rate of speed that prevented it from stopping prior to colliding with Hammon's vehicle. After impact, the report said, both vehicles proceeded to Hidden Pond Drive at its intersection with East Hillendale Road, and then stopped.

Trooper Baker stated in the report that when he arrived at the scene, he observed "heavy front end damage" to McCarthy's vehicle, as well as the same extent of damage to the back end of Hammon's vehicle.

Baker spoke with Hammon, who told Baker that he was traveling east on East Hillendale Road, when he saw McCarthy's vehicle approaching quickly behind him. He told Baker that he thought McCarthy was going to go around him, but instead, McCarthy continued driving straight, and collided with the rear end of Hammon's black 2006 Honda Accord.

The Chester County Press has also obtained a hand-written document from an unnamed witness at the scene of the crash, who shared what he observed at the scene to a licensed private investigator on April 15. While driving a dump truck, the witness said he was about to turn left onto Hidden Pond Drive, when he heard a loud noise, which he described as a screech and dragging noise. He told the investigator that he looked into his rear-view mirror and saw Hammon's and McCarthy's vehicles "connected to each other...A white unmarked police car was in the trunk of the black car in front of it," the witness stated.

The witness then said that after the two vehicles stopped, McCarthy's police vehicle backed up, disconnecting itself from Hammon's vehicle. Soon after, the police vehicle's horn was activated. When he approached McCarthy's vehicle to see if McCarthy was okay, the witness stated that it looked to him as if McCarthy was "fiddling with something. When I got to him, I could see that the air bag had deployed, but [it] looked like it was pushed back into the steering wheel."

The witness then noted to McCarthy that the police vehicle's air bag had deployed, which at first, McCarthy denied. Later, the witness stated, McCarthy said that the bag did deploy. Hammon, the witness said, then called 9-1-1, while McCarthy asked for the name and information of the witness. Trooper Baker did not ask for the witnesses' name and information, the witness stated.

After the call to 9-1-1 was made, a dispatch was made to McCarthy's vehicle. "I heard him [McCarthy] ask the location of the accident, and he repeated our location, but didn't tell him [the police dispatch] that he was involved in the accident," the witness stated. "At first, he [McCarthy] took all the info like he was going to respond and we [Hammon and the witness] thought, 'What?' He's going to leave and then respond to his own accident? But instead he [McCarthy] did notify State Police and they came in about 15 minutes or so."

The witnesses' account of what happened in the ensuing moments after the collision seems to conflict with Baker's report. In speaking with McCarthy at the scene of the accident, the report states that Baker found McCarthy to be "in a highly confused state of mind. He wasn't able to thoroughly comprehend what had just happened, nor could he provide a detailed account of what had occurred. Operator 1 [McCarthy] admittedly suffers from chronic brain injury and has suffered a seizure and fainted while driving in the past."

In speaking with McCarthy, Baker said that McCarthy was unable to provide details about the crash, and that he may have suffered a momentary seizure caused by his chronic brain injury, which stems from a 2008 accident, in which McCarthy, while constructing a food bank location in Kennett Square, severely damaged his head. While working, he slammed his head into a steel I-beam. After the accident, he underwent a series of tests, which revealed little in the way of brain damage but later detected the presence of a mark on the brain. McCarthy was later prescribed medication.

It has also been learned that Hammon has hired the Media-based law firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP, as legal representation, and that the firm has sent initial letters to McCarthy, township solicitor David Sander, and all three township supervisors – Robert Hammaker, Dr. Richard Leff and board chairman Scudder Stevens – that effectively puts them on notice that Hammon is seeking claims, not just to the township, but to each supervisor, personally. To date, no lawsuit has officially been filed.

Stevens acknowledged receiving the letter.

"The letter says that Mr. Hammon, through his counsel, is going after the supervisors, personally," he said. "They put us on notice that they have plans that they want to pursue. There are no surprises here. Obviously, they will have to prove their case, and it will flow through in the course of events as it is necessary to do."

This recent accident involving McCarthy, and the subsequent involvement of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP, practically assures that the township will be pulled into legal proceedings for the second time in four years. On Oct. 4, 2011, McCarthy was driving a township police vehicle on Creek Road in the township when he collided with a 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by Paula A. Sharpe of Hockessin. Sharpe and her husband, George A. Pigford, then filed a personal injury lawsuit against the township in Sept. 2013.

"I think it's a very sad situation, of course, and I'm sorry that such an accident occurred, and if anybody had been injured," Stevens said. "All of that is very unfortunate."

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail [email protected]