N.H. high-speed police cruiser crash details shielded by “privacy” act

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By Howard Altschiller, executive editor, Portsmouth Herald, Portsmouth, N.H.

A stunning report about a Seabrook, N.H. police cruiser that was traveling at more than 100 mph when it crashed in February was leaked to the Portsmouth Herald last week, but the legal battle over public access to those records carries on. 

A redacted copy of the March 19 Department of Motor Vehicles report was provided to the paper by an anonymous source after the Herald filed a Right to Know request for records pertaining to the Feb. 5 crash. The Department of Safety has so far refused to release any of the records on the grounds they’re protected by the “Driver Privacy Act.”

The Herald published the details of the report in a May 12 story, but still plans to press ahead with a hearing scheduled for next week to have the full dossier released to the public.

 A police officer and a pickup-up truck driver were injured after the cruiser blew through a red light in North Hampton at a speed topping 100 mph, the DMV report showed. The report also revealed the officer violated three state laws pertaining to emergency vehicles by failing to proceed through a red light after having slowed “as necessary for safe operation,” driving at an unreasonable speed which endangered life and property, and failing to drive the cruiser with “due regard for the safety of all persons.”

 The police cruiser was trying to pull over another vehicle traveling at more than 100 mph when the collision occurred, state investigators said.

 The Herald filed a motion for reports related to the cruiser crash with Merrimack County Superior Court on April 12, after all of the involved law enforcement agencies, including New Hampshire State Police and the state Department of Safety, refused to release any information or comment about the crash.

During a May 3 hearing on the matter in the Concord Superior Court, Senior Assistant Attorney General Mark Hodgdon said the Driver Privacy Act exempts motor vehicle records from the state’s Right to Know law.

No exception can be made “for the curious,” Hodgdon wrote in a motion filed with the court at the onset of the hearing.

Representing the Herald, attorney Benjamin King, of the Concord law firm of Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, countered that the Privacy Act is designed to protect personal information about private individuals, not “to shield possible police misconduct.”

King said the Herald will continue to litigate the case for all of the crash records, noting the likelihood that the state will deny similar requests in the future.

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