Fairfax Officer Charged in Fatal Crash

The crash victim's sister, Meredith Heller, says the charge is too lenient. But the police union says it will have a chilling effect on officers' decisions.
The crash victim's sister, Meredith Heller, says the charge is too lenient. But the police union says it will have a chilling effect on officers' decisions. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
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By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 3, 2008

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.

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