Caraway residents ask for police chief's suspension
It was standing room only at the Caraway city council meeting Thursday as visitors and officers spoke out concerning the police coverage during last month's accident involving 12 year old Allie Lunsford. Following the meeting Police Chief Jerry Vaughn was suspended from duty until Monday, giving Mayor Joe South time to consult with the city attorney, for legal clarification of action taken.
Caraway Mayor Joe South allowed visitors to take turns addressing the council concerning the accident that happened on Oct. 13, at the intersection of Waco Street and State Highway 158 East. The police report listed Sammy Gene Hicks, 62, of Caraway as the driver of a 1997 Chevrolet truck that struck Lunsford. Chief of Police Jerry Vaughn filled out the police report.
"We want you to send a letter to the state police to have the accident investigated," said Saneita Rea. "It is apparent the driver had been drinking. No citations were written. Our policemen are to protect us from illegal drinking."
"I asked Sammy (Hicks) afterwards and he said he had drunk about 3/4 of a beer," said South. "I have no problem asking the prosecuting attorney to investigate this. I probably should have called the state police when this happened, but didn't know for sure if they would come."
The council voted 6-0 to draft a letter to the prosecuting attorney the following week.
"We only have his (Vaughn) word for this," Regina Lunsford said. "Steve McFarlin asked him (Vaughn) to do the intoxication test over, and he refused. If it had been right the first time it would have registered it over and over, with no problem. Vaughn said he took Hicks' word that he had not been drinking.
"EMTs said Hicks had been drinking, other officers said he had, and Sammy told us he had drunk some, but Vaughn refused to retest him. Why was a blood alcohol test taken. No citations were written, not even a failure to yield."
Lunsford said Vaughn had let Allie down and let the city down, saying, "No one bothered to take Allie's statement."
"This shows incompetence," Lunsford said. "We can't sleep good knowing he (Vaughn) was watching over things. He chose that man (Hicks) over my daughter that day. That turns my stomach."
"I want Mr. Vaughn suspended, until this investigation is over," Lunsford said. "I not only want his job but his certification. "
"Please accept my apologies on behalf of the family," said South. "If the state does not investigate it, I agree that the chief should be suspended till the investigation is concluded. Could I prove he was negligent in taking the Breathalyzer? No, as I was not there. At that time I did not have reason to dismiss him."
"Why is he still patrolling?" Lunsford said. "Why was he not fired? You have the authority to terminate."
"He is innocent until proven guilty," said alderman Melvin Browning. "Let's let the investigator make this decision. This is not a court of law, and I'm not taking sides either way."
"We will have to check with the city attorney, if he is to be suspended with or without pay," South said. "Jerry (Vaughn) do you have anything to say about this?"
"I told you on Oct. 13 what happened," Vaughn said. "Anything I would say would just be a repeat."
"What date was the accident report filed?" asked officer Steve McFarlin.
Vaughn replied, "On Oct. 13."
"You asked me if I had done the report on Oct. 18," McFarlin said. "You said we could work on it that night. Did you say that?"
"Probably," Vaughn said.
"You told me that he (Hicks) had been drinking," McFarlin said.
"He said he had drank about 1/2 a beer," Vaughn said.
"But in your report you said he had not been drinking," McFarlin said.
"I feel like we have been lied to," said councilman Bo James. "You (Vaughn) said he had not been drinking and you just told us he had. Why?"
"A BAC test was requested, but where are the results," asked Al Lunsford. "Blood is usually drawn in an accident like this, but it wasn't."
"There was a cooler in the back of his (Hicks) truck, but you told me not to look in the back of the truck," McFarlin said.
"I did not say anything about a cooler in the back of the truck," Vaughn said.
"If something happened like this to your family, you people would feel differently about this," said Lunsford. "Jerry never called after the accident, or asked about her, nor did Sammy (Hicks). The other people did.
"Sammy told me he was looking at the ball park to see if he cold see Caleb, and he failed to yield to pedestrians. Why was a citation not written on this. There was not even a slap on his hand. I still cringe over this."
"The report looks like a third grader drew it up," Lunsford said. "He (Vaughn) took an oath to protect and serve, yet when Allie was lying in the street he (Vaughn) was already over there trying to sweep it under the rug. I want this man's job, as he shouldn't be protecting anyone. He went the wrong way and has to be accountable for it."
Keith Evans, policeman and EMT from Leachville, reported that he saw Allie hit while looking in the rear-view mirror of the module truck he was driving.
"I got out and went to where she was," Evans said. "I have never been talked to, like Jerry (Vaughn) talked to me. I got a cussing from him, and I didn't do anything wrong. I could smell alcohol on Hicks also."
South asked Evans, in his own opinion, was there negligence?
"If this was in my town, I would say yes," Evans said. "The first responders were quick and were doing a good job that day. I just don't appreciate how he (Vaughn) talked to me."
"Al, will you be satisfied with the state trooper's outcome when he investigates," asked alderman Johnny Boatman.
"Yes," Lunsford replied.
After a lengthy executive session, which included Vaughn, the council agreed to draft a letter asking for the investigation and wait for the results to determine the action taken after that.
"You have my deepest apology for what your family has been through," South said. "I apologize for what has happened. Remember that Jerry Vaughn didn't hit your little girl."
"He may as well had hit her, as he let the man (Hicks) walk," Lunsford said.
"We are not here to blame Sammy (Hicks)," said Regina Lunsford, "but the fact there had not been a reprimand or something. No one else is paying for Alley being hit, but her."
"You have a dirty cop," said Al Lunsford. "This is not justice. We will be the laughing stock of all the county. Is everyone afraid to do something. You said earlier you would suspend Jerry and now you have changed your mind."
"We have given our word and we want to do what is legally right," said alderman Kenny Weathers.
"I don't understand this, I got suspended without pay, for pulling a can of mace out of my pocket," said Scotty Browning, former Caraway patrolman. "How could you suspend me and not Jerry. You didn't have to call anyone or discuss suspending me. I resigned."
"If it takes suing you to get your attention, I'll sue," said Lunsford.
"I don't blame you," said Weathers.
Mayor South said Vaughn would be suspended until Monday, when legal council could be obtained.
On Monday, Nov. 14, Mayor South said Vaughn was still suspended, with pay.
In regular business the council voted to issue a $500 Christmas bonus to all full time employees, and $250 to part time.
Troy Kelems was presented a plaque of appreciation for his years of faithful years to the city.
A county wide burn ban has been issued and city policemen were asked to enforce it within the city limits of Caraway.
Mayor South reported work toward completing of the arena is in process. He thanked John and Linda Boatman for their work, along with the other volunteers.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting will be at 6 p.m Dec. 8.