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Wardy Landrau - -
09-15-2008, 07:54 PM
The Washington Post

May 03, 2008

FAIRFAX, VA – A Fairfax County police officer was charged with reckless driving yesterday in a crash that killed a 33-year-old teacher’s assistant in February when the officer drove her cruiser through a red light while responding to a call.

At 5 p.m. Feb. 12, Ashley McIntosh was pulling her Toyota Corolla out of the Mount Vernon Plaza shopping center after the light turned green. She crossed the southbound lanes of Route 1 and was turning north when her car was struck on the driver’s side.

Police said Officer Amanda R. Perry, 22, was driving north on Route 1 to a reported fight. Perry’s emergency lights were on, but witnesses said she was not using her siren as she drove into the intersection at Boswell Avenue against a red light.

McIntosh was thrown from her car and died the next day. She was a kindergarten teacher’s assistant at Clermont Elementary School, a job she had always wanted, and was engaged to be married this summer, her family said. Perry, who had been on the force a year, was not injured. Police said a video camera mounted on the dashboard of her car recorded the crash.

The misdemeanor charge against Perry did not please either side. McIntosh’s family had hoped for a more serious charge, such as manslaughter. The Fairfax police union, and Perry, had hoped for no charge.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Cynthia Colasanto, McIntosh’s mother. “The charges should have been more severe.”

Police presented the results of their investigation to Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh last week, handing him his first difficult charging decision since taking office. Morrogh said yesterday that Perry’s actions constituted a “momentary lapse of judgment” that did not rise to the level of manslaughter but did warrant a charge of reckless driving.

“These are always difficult cases,” Morrogh said. “I certainly recognize and appreciate the fact that she was doing her duty. But I have to apply the laws impartially to all, police and civilians alike.”

Meredith Heller, McIntosh’s sister, said: “I guess Ray Morrogh finds a momentary lapse of judgment, which resulted in an officer killing my sister, acceptable. Whereas I, as a citizen, cannot. I would be curious to know, if the roles were reversed, what charges would my sister have faced.”

Perry could not be located for comment. Police said the officer was on restricted duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

Perry’s attorney, Edward J. Nuttall, said he was disappointed in the charge. “Based on my knowledge of the case, I don’t believe that the officer acted recklessly in operating a motor vehicle,” Nuttall said. He said Perry was devastated by the crash and the charges.

Officer Marshall Thielen, president of the Fairfax police union, said he was disappointed by Morrogh’s decision. “In performing her duties that night, she tried to protect the public and a tragic accident occurred, no reckless intent,” Thielen said.

“I’m concerned that this type of charge could have a chilling effect on our officers in the future, in their decision-making process, as we attempt to serve the public,” he said.

The comment outraged the McIntosh family. Heller said: “Doesn’t he think the chilling effect would be the death of my sister and not on the officers, who are trained to slow down and put on their lights and use caution when responding to a call?”

McIntosh’s family learned of the charges from the news media after police issued a press release yesterday afternoon. Morrogh said he had left a message for the family’s attorney.

McIntosh was a popular athlete in the Fort Hunt area, a star basketball and softball player at West Potomac High School and a referee in the Fort Hunt youth leagues. Teachers and staff members at Clermont Elementary said she had established a special bond with the kindergarten students she worked with this year.

Family members said they had no contact with investigators for weeks after the crash, and in March they launched an online petition urging the Fairfax police to conduct a fair investigation. Police Chief David M. Rohrer, who expressed his condolences to the family immediately after McIntosh’s death, attended a tree-planting ceremony last month in McIntosh’s honor and received the online petition, which contained more than 1,000 names.

Morrogh said police are exempt from certain traffic laws, such as obeying red lights, under some circumstances. “You have to have your lights on and your siren on, and proceed cautiously, and be going slow enough to be able to stop when you enter an intersection with a red light,” the prosecutor said.

Perry’s driving had not met all of those standards, he said, “so I authorized the police to issue a summons.” He said a manslaughter charge required more than negligence, which he did not find in Perry’s case.

The prosecutor declined to say how fast Perry was driving when her car hit McIntosh’s Corolla, saying he could not discuss details of the case.

He did say that Perry was responding to a report of two men beating another man, which turned out to be two men capturing a suspected shoplift.




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