Fairfax Police Did Not Disclose Crash Details
Tuesday, May 2, 2006
Jatinder Baboota was on his way to one of the five gas stations he owns Jan. 23, making a left turn off Columbia Pike, when a Fairfax County police cruiser slammed into the right side of his Honda Accord. After falling into a coma, the longtime Vienna resident died 13 days later.
Police said Baboota, 61, was at fault for turning in front of a police car with its lights and sirens on. But now, more than three months after the crash, Baboota's family is questioning the police version of the incident and wondering whether authorities are telling the truth.
Among other concerns, the family questions whether the officer, Michael D. Weinhaus, had his emergency equipment turned on and whether he was really going only 45 mph -- 10 miles over the speed limit -- as police have estimated.
Family members say police have given them conflicting versions of the crash, including early claims that Weinhaus was involved in a high-speed chase, and two witnesses said they believe the officer did not have his lights and sirens on. Police say four witnesses told them the lights and siren were on.
Fairfax police did not disclose the crash, or Baboota's death, to the public. It came to light when Baboota's family sent an e-mail in early February to the Dr. Gridlock column in The Washington Post. Police said they did not intentionally withhold the news of the first fatal crash involving an officer since 1993, only that an internal communication breakdown occurred.
"I've been very disappointed with the way they've acted in this case," Deepa Sinha, Baboota's daughter, said of Fairfax police. "I feel like they should have been a little bit more forthcoming, not changing their story three times. He's a member of the county, a member of the community. Tell us the truth. Tell us what happened."
The family notified police Feb. 6 that Baboota had died from his injuries the day before. Police said the nearly two weeks between the crash and Baboota's death led to a lack of communication between the department's traffic division and its public information office, so no news release was issued.
"In retrospect, we should have put out a release on this," said Lt. Richard Perez, a Fairfax police spokesman.
Fairfax police said it was the county's first fatal crash involving an officer in 13 years. That crash, in which a man also pulled out in front of an officer, was disclosed the next day by police.
Police said Baboota was at fault for failing to yield to the officer. Deputy Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh said he reviewed the case last month and agreed that the officer should not be cited. He said he would have ruled the same way if a private citizen instead of an officer had been driving and that police had investigated the crash thoroughly.
Although the criminal investigation has been completed, Perez said an internal police investigation is ongoing.
At the time of the crash, Baboota was on his way to the Baileys Crossroads BP on Leesburg Pike that he had owned for 24 years. He took the back way, turning left off Columbia Pike onto Courtland Drive, rather than navigate the busy intersection at Leesburg Pike.