, Newburyport, MA

January 11, 2013

State Police assigned to investigate accident

Officer's wife hurt in Dec. 22 single-car crash

By Angeljean Chiaramida

---- — SEABROOK — A serious accident last month that sent the wife of a local police officer to a Boston hospital is under investigation by the New Hampshire State Police to avoid any semblance of conflict of interest.

According to Seabrook Police Chief Lee Bitomske, Stacy Wasson, the wife of Seabrook Lt. John Wasson, was injured in the single-car accident on Dec. 22 on Weare Road,

The 41-year-old was alone in a 2005 Escalade when it slammed into a tree at Weare Road and Mill Lane at 9:48 p.m. She was transported by Seabrook ambulance to Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport and later transferred to a Boston hospital for further treatment, Bitomske said. The SUV was totalled in the crash.

The chief said the decision to call in the State Police to process the accident was made soon after Seabrook officers arrived at the scene and realized the victim was a family member of one of the department’s own.

Sgt. David Bucchieri, the shift commander and second on the scene, would have been the one to make that decision, Bitomske said.

“Our protocol, and I imagine it’s the same with other police departments, is that with incidents like this one, we call in another (law enforcement) agency to handle the investigation,” Bitomske said. “We want everything to be above board. We don’t want any semblance of foul play.”

According to Capt. Gary Wood, commander officer of Troop A of the State Police, a request like Seabrook’s is not uncommon. He said the state agency is often called in as an impartial entity to investigate accidents involving family members.

Wood believes Troop A was called soon after Seabrook police reached the scene since the victim was still at the crash site when troopers arrived.

Because the investigation, being led by Trooper Nicholas Cyr of Troop A, is ongoing, Wood said he cannot comment on any aspect of it. He said such investigations usually take 30 to 90 days to complete and involve interviewing witnesses and looking into contributing factors, such as “speed, alcohol, weather conditions, distractions like texting, cell phone use or even a dog running into the road.”

A written report will be filed at the conclusion of the investigation. If fault is found, any possible charges would be brought by the State Police and not referred back to Seabrook police, Wood said.

Since the accident involved an officer’s family member, it has created speculation in town, according to Town Manager Joe Titone. He confirmed he has heard unofficial accusations claiming Lt. Wasson may have attempted to interfere.

Bitomske said by the time he arrived at the scene sometime after 10 p.m., both the victim and the lieutenant had already left in the ambulance for Anna Jaques. But he said none of the five Seabrook officers or troopers at the scene have called the lieutenant’s behavior into question. However, he said he understands that rumors can spread whenever police officers are involved.

Lt. Wasson willingly discussed his conduct after the accident. He said he did not remove anything from his wife’s vehicle while he was at the accident scene. But he did confirm that after the Escalade was towed to Dave’s Garage in Hampton, N.H., he called ahead and received permission from garage personnel to remove his wife’s personal effects.

His request came after he said his sister-in-law alerted him that his wife’s purse was clearly visible in the vehicle, which was unlocked.

“I took her pocketbook, money and her CDs,” Lt. Wasson said.

Comments have also been made concerning Lt. Wasson’s behavior in the Anna Jaques emergency room while his wife was being treated, leading the staff there to call Newburyport police.

According to the Newburyport police log, two units were dispatched to Anna Jaques at 10:44 p.m. in response to a “disturbance” call from the hospital. Newburyport officer Richard Rocco and Sgt. Alan Maguire responded.

Lt. Wasson said the situation at the hospital was a misunderstanding. He said when his wife was rolled into the trauma unit for treatment, he was asked to leave a couple times. He said he was told by hospital personnel that they wanted him to go to ensure he wouldn’t get in the way while they treated his wife.

“I said, `I won’t get in the way, I’ll just stay over here in this corner away from everything,’ but that I wanted to stay with my wife,” Lt. Wasson said. “The next thing I knew Newburyport police were there.”

According to Newburyport police, no charges were brought and there isn’t even an incident report on the call.

Bitomske said he did go to the hospital upon leaving the accident scene “primarily to check on Stacy’s condition and to see how John was doing.”

“When I got there, State Police troopers were there,” Bitomske said. “I did notice John was speaking with (Newburyport) Sgt. Maguire, but I don’t know what was said. I’ve told John to cooperate completely with the State Police on the investigation.”

Since the accident, Lt. Wasson said his wife was released from the hospital and is recovering at home.