Trooper Charles Van Morgan
A Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper accused of ignoring a fatal crash made his case Thursday to keep his job.
Charles Van Morgan is on paid adminstrative leave, after an incident in November 2011. He was in pursuit of 20-year-old Kyle Anito for speeding. The dashcam video shows that Morgan lost sight of Anito's car for a moment, then came around a curve and passed its wreckage. Morgan's supervisors believe he did see the wreck, slowed down for a better look, then drove on, making the decision not to stop and help the driver, who was killed.
Thursday morning, Morgan appeared at a brief hearing at THP headquarters in Nashville. The entire hearing lasted about 15 minutes.
Colonel T.G. Trott, commander of the THP, outlined his reasons why Morgan should be terminated. After his own investigation into the fatal crash, Col. Trott wrote the letter recommending Morgan's termination.
In his defense, Morgan told Captain Steven Hazard, the hearing officer, that he saw the car, but dismissed it, thinking it was just parked there. He said he believed the suspect's car was still on the road in front of him. Morgan said he slowed down because of roadway factors.
Morgan said after he terminated the pursuit, moments after the dashcam video shows he passed the wreck, he pulled over to let the camera run for one minute, which is THP policy.
He said that when he returned to the crash site, he did everything he could to save the life of the driver. The dashcam video shows Morgan spraying a fire extinguisher towards the flames, an action Morgan later admitted to his superiors was "just for show."
"He slowed his car partially due to road conditions. Ultimately, he did not recognize the vehicle as the one he pursued," said Brock Parks, attorney for Trooper Morgan, after the hearing.
"I do think someo f the things he said are inconsistent with prior statements and the video evidence," said Marcos Garza, attorney for Kyle Anito's parents, after the hearing.
Captain Hazard will take THP's recommendation and Morgan's statements under advisement, then make his recommendation to Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons. Gibbons has 10 working days to make his decision about Morgan's employment.
If Gibbons agrees to terminate, Trooper Morgan can appeal that decision several times. The first appeal would result in another THP hearing with a different hearing officer. The second appeal would be before an administrative law judge, then the Civil Service Commission would hear the third appeal. After that, Morgan could appeal in Chancery Court. Morgan's attorney has said they will "fight this all the way to Chancery Court if necessary.