I have always had confidence in police. I have even taught my children that outside of my wife and I, police officers are the most trustworthy people they can come in contact with during daily life. That confidence though, has been badly shaken during the past week due to the unscrupulous actions of the Tamaqua Police Department. Today, I was informed by Tamaqua PD that a driver who hit my five-year old daughter with his car at a local mini-mart and fled the scene before police arrived, would only receive a slap on the wrist in the form of a parking violation as a consequence.
Last Tuesday, my pregnant wife and two daughters stopped at My Family Mini Market on Broad Street in Tamaqua to tap the ATM for a planned evening at Heisler’s. She parked in one of the designated parking space in front of the store. After withdrawing money, she decided to clean the garbage off the floor of her car. She solicited my kindergartener Allison for help. While throwing away trash at the can in front of the market doors, a car driven by Elbert Stegmeier of Tamaqua quickly backed into the designated pedestrian walkway in front of the store in an attempt to park his vehicle. For unknown reasons, Stegmeier continued backing his car in until the rear of his vehicle es-cheated onto the walkway and struck my five-year old in the back with his bumper. Stegmeier’s actions were witnessed by two other pedestrians, not including my wife, who promptly informed Stegmeier that he had struck my daughter and that they were calling the police and EMT’s to the scene. He proceeded to enter the store, without apologizing to my wife or daughter and without checking to see if she was alright, bought a pack of cigarettes inside, reentered his vehicle, and left the scene.
Luckily, my wife took down his license plate number while he was in the store and handed the information over to the responding officer, Henry Woods. My daughter was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital in Pottsville where she was treated for a bruised back (Thank God that’s all it was). I was informed of the incident after I left my class at around 7:30pm. After talking with my wife and ensuring that Allison was OK, I called Tamaqua PD for an update. Officer Woods informed me of the progress of the investigation and I notified him that I wanted charges pressed to the fullest extent.
Here’s where everything takes a shady turn: During our conversation, I asked Officer Woods if Mr. Stegmeier was investigated for being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. I did so because my wife, who happens to be a 6-year veteran of Children and Youth Services and is a former inpatient drug and alcohol counselor, mentioned that she believed he was drunk or high because his face was flushed, his eyes were bloodshot, and his speech was slurred. Officer Woods responded as follows: “There is no need for any of that. He is a friend of mine and I know for a fact that he does not drink”. Hmmm . . . so he is a friend? Wait, it gets better.
When I called him on that and asked him, “what does his being a friend have to do with anything?” Woods responded, “Well, he’s not really a friend, um, I just know him from around town, ya know.” The conversation ended with Woods notifying me that he would not be able to assess any fines or criminal charges until he received a medical report from Good Sam.
Fast forward to a week later. We received notice that for hitting my daughter with his car while attempting to park in a no parking zone and then fleeing the scene before police arrived, Stegmeier would be cited for “Limitation on Backing (S. 3702, PA Motor Vehicle Code)”. He will be assessed a $25 fine and 3 points on his driver’s license.
Needless to say, I am enraged at this bum, Stegmeier, for (obviously) putting my child in harm’s way. But also, I am beside myself in contempt for the utter disregard that the Tamaqua Police Department displayed for my family. Here, we have a man who drives up onto a sidewalk and hits a pedestrian. You’d think the first thing the police would want to do after taking statements from those courteous enough to remain at the scene and viewing the videotape of the accident, is talk with the driver and maybe evaluate WHY the accident happened. Nope, not Officer Woods. Instead of interviewing him in person to possibly determine if Stegmeirer was actually drunk, he decided to conduct an interview via telephone through Stegmeirer’s girlfriend (the owner of the vehicle) at Stegmeier’s house. Anything for a buddy, right?
Then, we have the charges or should I say, parking fine. As a law student who is less than a month away from graduation, I can easily navigate the PA Motor Vehicle Code. What I found was astonishing. The following is a list of offenses that Stegmeier COULD have been charged with:
S. 3714 Careless Driving: Any person who droves a vehicle in a careless disregard for the safety of person or property. This is a summary offense.
S. 3736 Reckless Driving: Any person who drives a vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of person or property. This is also a summary offense, but carries a $200 fine.
S. 3744 Duty to Give Information and Render Aid: The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident shall give his name address, and registration number of the vehicle he is driving and shall upon request exhibit his driver’s license and [insurance] to any person injured in the accident or to the driver or occupant of a person attending any vehicle or other property damaged. He shall also render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance. This is also a summary offense.
S. 3742 Accidents Involving Death or Personal Injury: The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury or death of any person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident until he has fulfilled the requirements of S.3744 (the one above). If a driver fails to do so, he committs a misdemeanor of the first degree.
S. 2701 Simple Assault: Negligently causing bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon. This is a misdemeanor of the second degree.
But alas, even with all of these options, Tamaqua PD chose to charge Stegmeier with “Limitation on Backing”.
Since the accident, I have tried to speak with the Chief of Police on multiple occasions to discuss matters. The day after, I went to Tamaqua Borough Hall to meet with him at 1:30pm. I was told he went home early that day. I called the very next day. I was told he was in a meeting. I called the day after that, but only got the 911 Center because it was after 4pm.
The actions of the Tamaqua PD in failing to properly investigate, failing to charge the perpetrator appropriately, and failing to aptly explain themselves to the victim’s family, is clearly disgusting. They reek of unprofessionalism and cronyism. Instead of providing justice for a 5-year old little girl, they decided to bend over backwards for a buddy. Congratulations Tamaqua, you’ve now reached a new low.