KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
BENNINGTON -- The chief of the Bennington Rural Fire Department pleaded not guilty Monday to charges alleging he damaged a person’s car by throwing a flashlight at it while on duty at a fire scene.
Joseph T. Hayes, 43, of Murphy Road in North Bennington, was charged in Bennington Superior Court Criminal Division with misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct and unlawful mischief. He was released on conditions.
According to an affidavit by Bennington Police Officer Andy Hunt, on June 3 at 11:18 p.m. he was dispatched to North Bennington Road where the BRFD had been sent to help with arcing power lines. Dispatchers told Hunt that both Hayes and the driver of the car, Frederick Grant, had called police to report an incident.
Hayes told police he was crossing the road with no reflective gear to get the number off a utility pole, when he saw a vehicle coming at him at a high rate of speed. Hayes said he shined his flashlight at the car to make it slow down or stop, but it did not, so he threw the flashlight at the front of the vehicle. Hunt wrote that Hayes admitted to having "a few choice words," for the driver.
Grant told police he was headed west along North Bennington Road behind a line of cars traveling between 15 and 20 mph. He said the vehicle in front of him was ahead by three car lengths, and that he turned on his windshield wipers because of the light rain and mist. He said this put streaks on his windshield, making it hard to see, but he noticed someone in a white shirt off to his right and slowed down. He said there was a pickup truck facing him with its headlights and top lights on, further limiting his ability to see.
Grant said he heard something hit the front of his vehicle, and then Hayes was shouting expletives at him. Grant told police this was the first time he noticed Hayes.
Hunt wrote that he saw that Grant’s 2007 Saturn Outlook had a cracked grille and bumper cover, while there was an orange firefighter flashlight shattered in the roadway. He said Grant initially did not want the fire department to pay for the vehicle, but on June 8 called police saying the damage was more expensive than he thought.
Bodywerk’s Collision Center in Shaftsbury quoted repairs at $999.89.
Hunt said he submitted his investigation to the Bennington County State’s Attorney’s Office, which on June 18 told him to cite Hayes. Hunt said he spoke to Hayes over the phone about him coming to the police department, which Hayes said he would do after a meeting. Hunt said Hayes called him back, then put Carl Sherman on the phone, who is a member of the Prudential Board for the BRFD.
According to Hunt, Sherman told him that he would not allow Hayes to speak to them without a lawyer, as he does not trust the police. He said the police could give Hayes a few days, as the matter had been dragged out. Hunt said he told Sherman that Hayes needed to meet with him soon; otherwise, he would apply for an arrest warrant.
Hunt said that on June 22, Hayes had still not shown up, owing to a leg injury he’d received at a fire call on June 21. He said he called Hayes, who said he would not be able to move until the following week. Hunt wrote that he went to Hayes’ house and served him the citation to appear in court July 9. According to Hunt, he later learned Hayes was at a fire scene on June 23, using crutches.
Hayes directed requests for comment to his attorney, William D. Wright, who did not return calls Tuesday.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr