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Jim Kenyon: Sometimes an Accident Is Just an Accident

  • Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 15, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

Published: 9/18/2018 11:47:41 PM
Modified: 9/18/2018 11:47:54 PM

Ted Thompson was parking at Centerra Marketplace in Lebanon one afternoon when he misjudged how close he was to a pickup truck in an adjacent space.

After “making contact” with the truck, Thompson, 74, checked the unoccupied vehicle for damage. After finishing his shopping on that March day, he gave it another look over.

“I honestly didn’t see anything that I thought was worth reporting,” he told me.

When Mike Wilcox finished his shift in the meat department at the Lebanon Food Co-op, he didn’t notice any damage to his 2007 GMC that had been parked in the Centerra lot for the day. But when he got home, his wife, Sylvia, did. “What happened to your truck?” she asked.

Wilcox, 65, called his insurance company, which instructed him to report the mishap to police. The Lebanon officer who inspected Wilcox’s truck observed “several dents and scratching” on the driver’s side.

While investigating the “hit and run,” the officer discovered that a store’s surveillance camera could pick up activity in the parking lot. After reviewing the footage for March 23, the officer traced the vehicle that hit Wilcox’s truck to Thompson.

What do you think happened next?

Not being a cop, I assumed that police would call Thompson at his home in Hanover to give him Wilcox’s contact information so the two men could resolve the matter through Thompson’s insurance company.

But that’s not what happened.

On April 14, Lebanon police asked Thompson to come in for questioning, which he did the next day. Six weeks later, Thompson was asked to return to the station — this time to be arrested.

After being fingerprinted and photographed, Thompson was placed in a holding cell while police finished his booking paperwork. He was charged with a misdemeanor — conduct after an accident — for allegedly failing to report damage of more than $1,000.

Thompson, a retired banker, doesn’t have a criminal record. At the time of his questioning, he provided Lebanon police with his auto insurance information, presumably so it could be relayed to Wilcox. Since the cops didn’t provide Thompson with Wilcox’s name, he couldn’t do it himself.

More than three months went by, but Thompson’s insurance company never received a property damage claim.

Last week, I saw Thompson at Dartmouth’s Boss Tennis Center, where he works at the front desk. The previous day he had met with Lebanon prosecutor Ben LeDuc at the Lebanon District courthouse.

After their conversation, Thompson pleaded not guilty to the offense, which carries a maximum fine of $1,200, plus court fees. A trial was set for Nov. 13. Thompson wasn’t trying to avoid responsibility. He just hoped that with a little more time, the matter could be straightened out. (He still hadn’t been told who owned the vehicle that he allegedly had damaged.)

At the courthouse, I came across Wilcox’s name in the police report, which Thompson hadn’t been given a copy of. Later, I found his phone number in Windsor.

On Monday, Wilcox told me that he had retired from the Co-op a couple of months ago. He hadn’t heard from Lebanon police since shortly after reporting the accident — in late March — so he filed a claim with his own insurance company, which paid the repair bill.

I told him that Lebanon police had arrested Thompson. “That’s terrible,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned everything was taken care of. I don’t want anything to happen to this guy. I hope they’ll drop the charge.”

I gave Thompson his phone number. “I want to apologize,” Thompson had told me earlier. “In hindsight, I should have left a note on his windshield. That’s my fault.”

On Monday night, the two talked over the phone. Thompson is sending Wilcox a check for $280 to cover the portion of the repairs that his insurance didn’t cover. “That’s only fair,” Thompson told me. “He shouldn’t be out anything.”

Thompson is now waiting to see what happens with his criminal case. “I admit it’s stressful,” he said, “but it’s not the end of the world.”

Getting arrested and potentially being saddled with a criminal record pales to what Thompson has endured in the last nine years. In 2009, he was diagnosed with melanoma. The cancer spread to his lungs and liver, which was treated with chemotherapy and radiation. The cancer went into remission, but he later developed prostate cancer, which he also seems to have beaten.

On Monday, I emailed Lebanon Police Chief Richard Mello, who I’ve found to be good at quickly looking into matters brought to his attention.

Within an hour or so, I received a call from the chief. His department already has handled 140 hit-and-run cases this year. Sometimes, police need to take a hard line, “if the driver doesn’t take responsibility,” Mello said.

But in this case, the police report indicated that Thompson had acknowledged making contact with Wilcox’s pickup. The surveillance video also showed that Thompson hadn’t fled the scene. He’d checked for damage twice — before and after completing his shopping.

The officer who conducted the investigation had done as he’d been trained at the state’s police academy, Mello said. But Lebanon police still should have gotten back to Wilcox with Thompson’s insurance information, he added. “We could have done a better job of closing the loop with the victim,” Mello told me.

Chances are Thompson and Wilcox could have settled this between themselves. And Wilcox wouldn’t have had to cough up $280.

With better communication, this is a case that “probably could have avoided going to court,” Mello said.

LeDuc, who is about as reasonable as prosecutors go, told me on Tuesday that after talking with Thompson and Wilcox, the case has the “potential to be resolved outside of court.”

I hope so. Sometimes an accident is just that.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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