Officer involved in fatal traffic crash

Photo by J. Patrick Pepper

Photo by J. Patrick Pepper

Dearborn police review the scene of a fatal rollover accident involving a Dearborn police patrol car that was responding to a reported house fire on Outer Drive May 17. The driver of the vehicle, a 55-year-old Dearborn Heights woman, was transported to Oakwood Hospital & Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Michigan State Police are investigating a traffic crash that involved a Dearborn police car and left a 55-year-old Dearborn Heights woman dead.

The crash occurred about 9 a.m. May 17 at the intersection of Parker and Outer Drive. Dearborn police, who conducted preliminary evidence gathering, said the officer was responding to a reported house fire in the 22500 block of Outer Drive, which turned out to be a man burning leaves or trash in a chimineylike container.

As the officer rounded the blind curve at Outer Drive near Grindley Park, Deborah Hodges, driving a 1994 Ford Explorer with her 20-year-old daughter as passenger, began to make her way across southbound Outer Drive to eastbound Parker.

The two vehicles collided, flipping the Explorer onto its roof and sending the crumpled police car skidding to the other side of Outer Drive.

After the crash Hodges’ daughter reportedly exited the vehicle shaken, but mostly unharmed. She was transported to Oakwood Hospital & Medical Center for treatment of what police described as nonlife-threatening injuries, as was the officer, who has been identified only as a “young man.”

Doctors pronounced Hodges dead shortly after her arrival at the hospital, police said. Officials have not released the specific cause of death.

State police accident reconstruction specialists were at the scene last Wendesday taking measurements and surveying the area. They will try to determine the course of events on that sunny morning and divine fact from the conflicting reports of eyewitnesses.

While police and city officials have maintained unequivocally that the unmarked silver Ford Crown Victoria patrol car had sirens and lights on, some witnesses have said otherwise. Vicki McDonald, who lives nearby on Olmstead, told multiple news organizations that she did not see the car’s lights activated or hear the siren.

Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. called the incident “a terrible tragedy” and expressed sympathy for the victim’s family. However, he cautioned against a rush to affix blame to police, saying he is confident that evidence will show the officer was not at fault.

“I can’t get too much into the specifics because the investigation is ongoing,” O’Reilly said, “but I can tell you that I have viewed the footage from the in-car camera, and it showed that the sirens were on and that he was driving at a responsible speed for the circumstance.”

O’Reilly said an unrelated shutdown of the left lane on Outer Drive near Summer may have been a contributing factor. He was uncertain what caused the lane closure, perhaps a disabled vehicle, but said that it extended north past the Parker turnaround and possibly could have obscured Hodge’s view.

Hodge’s family is devastated and in several published reports has said that police are at fault for the accident. They have retained for a wrongful death lawsuit Robert Giroux of Southfield law firm Fieger, Fieger, Kenney, Johnson and Giroux P.C. Giroux as of press time did not return a telephone call requesting comment for this story.