VSP Eyes Deputy’s Collision

Trooper: Officer’s Duty To Ensure Traffic Clear

Posted: August 13, 2014

HARRISONBURG — A downtown crash Monday morning involving a Rockingham County sheriff’s deputy remains under investigation, according to the Virginia State Police.

Deputy Donald Landes, 57, was responding to an attempted suicide call as he traveled north on Main Street through downtown, coming to a red light at Elizabeth Street, VSP 1st Sgt. Frank Pyanoe said Tuesday afternoon.

The deputy, with lights flashing and his siren on, collided with Harrisonburg resident Erma Davis, 78, who was westbound with a green light on Elizabeth Street. Both vehicles sustained significant damage, but the drivers suffered only minor injuries and were treated at Sentara RMH Medical Center, police say.

State law allows emergency vehicles to go through red lights “with due regard to the safety of persons and property,” code says.

Pyanoe says it’s an officer’s responsibility to ensure that an intersection is clear or even make eye contact with other drivers before proceeding through a red light.

The intersection at Main and Elizabeth streets makes that difficult because of large buildings surrounding it that are also up against the roadway.

“[Landes] didn’t give himself enough time to be able to react to [traffic],” Pyanoe said.

However, no charges have been placed as of Tuesday, he said, and the incident remains under investigation by Trooper Robert Lawson.

It’s possible for Landes to be found at fault but not charged. In officer-involved crashes, investigators review the actions of police on a case-by-case basis, such as whether they were responding to an emergency or just on routine patrol when disregarding traffic laws.

Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson said he would take any administrative action in the incident, if necessary, when he receives the final report from state police.

Technology Helps

The Harrisonburg Fire Department is in its last round of installing technology on city stoplights that allows emergency vehicles and police to gain control of a signal.

All new lights in Harrisonburg will have this technology, too.

Parts of Main Street, including at the intersection where Monday’s crash occurred, are on the list to get the system, Fire Chief Larry Shifflett said.

State police and county deputies, though, do not have the technology installed in their vehicles.

Shifflett said he advises city firefighters to come to a complete stop or an almost complete rest at red lights when answering a call.

“We hound our people pretty hard about that,” he said.

But, in general, Shifflett also cautions all drivers that green doesn’t simply always mean go.

“You have left on reds, right on reds. You can’t take for granted [a green]. You have to be careful at every light you come to,” he said.

Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or pknight@dnronline.com

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