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Traffic fatality Authorities continue probe into accident

Publication:El Dorado News-Times; Date: Wednesday, January 04, 2006 ;
Section:Main; Page:1

Traffic fatality Authorities continue probe into accident

By TONI WALTHALL News-Times Staff Law enforcement agencies continue the investigation into Friday’s traffic death of an El Dorado man on U.S. 167, whose body and motorcycle were not discovered until Saturday.

The body of Romara Morris, 31, of 3065 Parnell Road, was discovered Saturday morning near his motorcycle. Both were obscured in a woody area, not visible to passers-by on the road.

Investigators said officers followed procedures responding to the initial call, which was not reported as an emergency, but as a need to file a report.

William Campbell, of Houston, Texas, drove to an East Main convenience store Friday before 8 p.m., asking the clerks inside to contact law enforcement. Campbell told the clerks that he needed to report a possible hit-andrun accident.

Clerks inside the store contacted the Union County Sheriff’s Office via a nonemergency number on behalf of Campbell, relaying that he needed to file a report for a possible hit-and-run accident.

According to Sheriff Ken Jones, because the location of the accident was not reported by the caller, the UCSO dispatcher transferred the information to the El Dorado Police Department. The convenience store from where the call emanated is within the city’s jurisdiction. The recorded phone call to the EPD verifies that the incident was identified as a need to file a routine, non-emergency report.

Surveillance tapes capture the arrival of the EPD officer minutes later. He spoke to Campbell, and checked the rear bumper of the 2000 Toyota Tacoma pickup.

According to El Dorado Police Chief Ricky Roberts, the officer noted in his report that the damage to the right side rear of the pickup could have been caused by backing into an object. Campbell told the officer that he was driving on U.S. 167 when something hit his truck from behind, pushing it forward with a jolt. Campbell stated that he did not see headlights, not did he see what hit him, though he stopped to look around the area. Unable to see anything, he drove on to the next exit, where the convenience store is located.

After learning that the incident occurred in the Union County Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction, the rookie officer followed procedure and directed Campbell to have the clerks inside call the sheriff’s office so the report could be filed with the appropriate agency.

According to Roberts, Campbell was using an outside phone when the officer was leaving the parking lot to return to patrol.

Campbell told Union County investigators that he went back inside and asked the clerks to contact the sheriff’s office. The clerks interviewed said that Campbell used the outside phone, waited around outside for a while, but did not come back into the store or ask them to contact anyone on his behalf.

Instead, Campbell checked into a local hotel, opting to contact the sheriff ’s office Saturday morning. Jones said that investigators believe that Morris’ motorcycle hit the right rear area of Campbell’s vehicle, left the road and flipped before hitting a tree.

Skid marks at the scene stretched 149 feet, indicating that Morris was traveling at a high rate of speed.

Investigators hope to tie up the inquiry today, but so far, they conclude that the accident "fell through the cracks"

as a result of a series of miscommunications, starting with Campbell. Roberts said there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

According to Jones, Morris’ family scheduled a 4 p.m.

meeting with him Tuesday, but failed to keep it. Attempts to contact Campbell to follow up on the investigation have been unsuccessful as well.

"It’s not completely the fault of the law agencies involved,"

said Jones. " We hate this. It’s eating me up, but (Campbell) holds a lot of answers to these questions. We need to get the facts from him.

"He had more of a responsibility to make sure the proper authority was notified that night," he added. "It would have been real easy for him to get the phone number or to say to the clerk ‘call the sheriff’s office.’ We don’t know why he didn’t."

"We’re still investigating to see if there was any violation of policy, but at this point, it doesn’t look that way," said Roberts. "It’s easy to Mondaymorning quarterback officers who have to make split-second decisions every day, but the officer followed procedure. We will learn from this and hope it never happens again."

Jones concurred.

"I certainly don’t want this lesson to go to waste. It’s an eye opener," he said. "You can bet we’ve learned from it that everything isn’t as routine as it seems. What was reported to be a minor incident was unfortunately a tragedy."

Jones said Morris’ family has requested a private autopsy.
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