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Watertown police: cop at fault in accident

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Watertown police say one of their officers is at fault in a two-vehicle collision at an intersection that occurred while he was responding to an emergency call Wednesday morning.

The officer, Christopher L. Thomas, 33, suffered a face injury from an airbag deployment and was treated at Samaritan Medical Center.

After Jefferson County emergency dispatch received a report about a possible suicidal person on South Orchard Street shortly before 5:30 a.m., Officer Thomas responded with emergency lights operating as he drove south on North Massey Street, police said. Upon approaching the Coffeen Street intersection, where visibility was limited by snowfall, he “stopped” to check for oncoming traffic, then proceeded against a red traffic light, according to the department’s accident report.

The investigating officer, Sgt. Joseph C. Reff, concluded on the report, however, that the officer failed to “fully and successfully” clear the intersection as he drove under the red light. He attributed the officer’s “failure to yield right of way” as the contributing factor in the collision.

Officer Thomas, a nine-year veteran of the department, did not see a westbound pickup approaching the intersection, and the driver of the truck, Joseph D. Chesbrough, 28, of 17151 Route 11, who was favored by a green light, failed to see the 2013 Ford patrol car because of the limited visibility, according to the accident report. Capt. Cheryl A. Clark said the visibility issue also may have involved the fact that the pickup was coming up an incline on the east side of the intersection.

The patrol car struck the passenger side of the pickup.

Mr. Chesbrough was not cited with counts attributing fault in the accident, but he was charged with second-degree aggravated unlicensed operation and circumventing a vehicle interlock device. His license is revoked for a felony driving while intoxicated conviction in March 2010.

Capt. Clark said all accidents involving police vehicles are reviewed by a departmental panel. Findings from that review are passed to the police chief, who determines what discipline, if any, should be issued. The action is handled internally, with no traffic tickets issued.

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