WENATCHEE — A motorist cited for traffic offenses after his car was struck by a Wenatchee police officer has been cleared of all moving violations in the case.
Daniel R. Arias, 22, was charged with improper lane usage after a minor July 9 accident in which Officer Jeff Ward’s patrol car scraped his rear bumper. Police later reversed themselves in light of dashboard video that showed Ward improperly crossing two lanes of North Wenatchee Avenue traffic before striking Arias’s car in the center turn lane.
In Chelan County District Court on Tuesday, Arias admitted driving without a valid license or insurance, while the city of Wenatchee withdrew the lane-use charge and a charge of driving on a suspended license. The collision led Wenatchee police to place a written notice of counseling in Ward’s record and assign him a one-hour evaluation with a driving trainer.
Ward maintained he was not at fault in the accident, according to internal memos provided after a Wenatchee World public disclosure request. Those memos also showed this was Ward’s eighth documented “preventable” collision in 14 years as a Wenatchee police officer. His most recent such accident was in September 2011, and also earned him written counseling.
In the July 9 accident, Ward’s front bumper grazed Arias’ rear bumper as Ward turned south onto Wenatchee Avenue near Hawley Street while Arias traveled north in the center lane. Cars in the two right-hand northbound lanes had stopped to allow Ward to exit after he inched his car out toward the street. Arias’s lawyer Paul Webber said it was impossible for his client to see Ward making his turn.
Ward’s own narrative of the crash said Arias’s car “swerved out into the southbound lane hitting my passenger side corner of the front bumper.” Fellow patrol officer Brian Bolz, who said he was off-duty on personal business in the Sav-Mart lot when the crash happened, verbally confirmed Ward’s account to Sgt. Cherie Smith, who investigated the crash.
Smith cited Arias for improper lane use, driving without insurance and driving on a suspended license. But after Smith viewed Ward’s dashboard camera footage three days later, she wrote the court asking to withdraw the lane-use infraction.
“Officer Ward had the responsibility to yield to all vehicles upon entering the roadway,” Smith wrote in a July 12 report to Police Chief Tom Robbins. “He is at fault in this collision.”
Robbins ordered Ward to receive “written counseling” and undergo a one-hour evaluation drive with an Emergency Vehicle Operator Course trainer. Ward objected and asked to present his case to Capt. Doug Jones, who on July 31 concurred with Smith’s findings.
Robbins made the disciplinary order formal on Aug. 2. Ward refused to sign a Sept. 30 disciplinary memo from Smith to acknowledge reviewing it with her. On Oct. 2, Bolz backed him up again by filing a written statement reiterating his and Ward’s version of the accident.
When the case went to court in September, Ward contacted Wenatchee city attorney Michael Bradford, who was prosecuting the case against Arias, to “let him know what happened” in the accident. Webber claimed the contact was improper, while Bradford said it was a privileged exchange between attorney and client. Judge Nancy Harmon ordered Bradford off the case Sept. 17.
Arias will pay $500 in fines. Webber said Arias reserves the right to sue the city police over the accident and subsequent investigation.
“As far as I’ve heard from him, he’s not planning to do that, but he holds the option open,” Webber said.