One deputy suspended for chain reaction crash

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

Update 10:00 a.m. 10/30/2008: The Harrison County Sheriff's Department announced Thursday morning that one of the officers involved in Wednesday's accident, James Zugg, has been suspended for one day without pay. Deputy Zugg will also lose his patrol car privileges for 30 days.

The three other deputies involved received written reprimands. All four must attend a remedial defensive driving course.

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - They were headed to a street survival seminar. But on their way to New Orleans Wednesday morning, four Harrison County deputies slammed their squad cars into each other. The accident happened at 6:30 am, on Interstate 10 in Slidell, near the area at the twin spans where lanes merge together.

Two of the cars that got sandwiched together had to be towed back to the Harrison County work center. Randy Cook is the sheriff's department chief of operations.

"I don't think the taxpayers expect us to let officers go out and tear up equipment that taxpayers money has paid for," he said, after inspecting the damaged vehicles.

And yet, on the westbound side of I-10, four Harrison County squad cars somehow banged into each other.

"It's uncalled for," said Cook. "And I'll be honest with you, I'm irritated, the sheriff is irritated, the chief deputy is irritated. And there's a bunch of officers that are embarrassed over it."

The cars were part of a six car convoy heading to Louisiana for a street survival conference. When traffic merged together at the twin span bridge, one of the Harrison County deputies was apparently not paying attention.

"Obviously in the end it will be determined that somebody was following too close," Cook said.

Deputies were able to drive two patrol cars involved in the collision to the safety conference. But tow trucks hauled the other two dented vehicles from Slidell to Gulfport.

The hoods of both cars looked like a crushed soda can. The back fender on car 419 showed the scars of a nerve rattling chain reaction wreck.

"Absolutely preventable," Cook said, especially since everybody on the sheriff's department just completed a drivers training course.

Just 24 hours before one of the squad cars got popped by friendly fire, it was at the work center maintenance shop, getting new brakes, and new tires. The tires may be saved for another vehicle. But the rest of the banged up patrol car may end up in the scrap heap, because mechanics say it's old, and now, it's pretty beat up. That isn't sitting well with sheriff's department administrators.

"This is the property of the citizens of Harrison County. And we take that responsibility serious of maintaining the taxpayers property for them," Cook said.

The four deputies who were driving the cars involved in the chain reaction wreck were Scott Henning, Joe Sturm, James Zugg, and Phillip Pavolini.

The Louisiana State Police issued no citations to the deputies. However, Harrison County's sheriff is conducting his own internal investigation, to see why the four squad cars rammed into each other. The sheriff says disciplinary action against the officers involved may be necessary.

Nobody was injured in the chain reaction wreck. However, one deputy who's seven months pregnant did go to the hospital for observation. She was back in Gulfport by lunchtime.