- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006

BALTIMORE (AP) — The death of a city police officer whose patrol car collided with another patrol car two weeks ago calls attention to one of the greatest hazards any officer faces on the job — driving.

Seven of the past 11 Baltimore police officers killed in the line of duty died in vehicle crashes, officials say. Nonfatal accidents involving police officers occur at the rate of about 1.5 per day.

Each year, there is one accident for nearly every one of the city’s more than 600 police cars on the road.

Across the country, traffic accidents rival gunshot wounds as the leading killers of police officers.

“It’s so rare that a police officer gets involved in a shooting,” Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina, told the Baltimore Sun. “Most police officers never fire their weapons in the line of duty at all. They use their vehicles daily.”

Baltimore police Officer Anthony A. Byrd was killed May 19 when the car he was driving was hit by one driven by Officer Raymond Cook.

The collision occurred close to the Southwest District police station, where both were assigned to the midnight shift. Officer Byrd, 31, was returning to the station near the end of the shift. He was married and had two children, ages 9 and 7.

Officer Cook was leaving the station to back up other officers in a domestic complaint. Officer Cook, 36, is single and has received two Bronze Stars and a lifesaving award in his 10-year career. He is recovering from his injuries.

The cause of the accident remains under investigation.

The fatality brought back painful memories for Lt. Frederick V. Roussey, a shift supervisor with the department.

Six years ago, his 22-year-old son, Jamie A. Roussey, was killed when his police cruiser was broadsided by a civilian as he went through an intersection en route to helping another officer. The young man had been on the force for just more than a year.

“You tell these kids, ‘If you get yourself in an accident on the way to the scene, you’re not doing anybody any good,’” said Lt. Roussey, a 27-year veteran.

The number of accidents involving police cars fell last year, and the number of crashes in which an officer is found at fault is falling, according to Baltimore police statistics.

There were 334 accidents in 2002 that were determined to be the fault of officers. Last year, 269 accidents were deemed the officer’s fault. Through May 19 of this year, an officer was found to blame in 98 crashes.

“In congested areas, you’re going to have more accidents seven days a week, 24 hours a day. There are no slow times. There’s no breaks,” said Paul M. Blair Jr., president of Baltimore’s Fraternal Order of Police union.

The fatal crash between Officers Byrd and Cook marked the third in recent years in which a collision between two police cars ended in a fatality.

In 2002, Officer Crystal D. Sheffield died after her car collided with another police car racing to the same call. In 1998, Officer Harold J. Carey was killed on the way to assist a fellow officer when his police van collided with a cruiser at a midtown intersection.

Even when responding to emergency calls, regulations require police officers to follow most traffic laws. They are not allowed to drive faster than 10 mph over the speed limit, even with lights and sirens on, and they must come to a complete stop at stop signs and red lights before proceeding.

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