NORTHFIELD – An officer who is under investigation for totaling a Northfield police cruiser in November was involved in another crash in August. This crash was investigated by a fellow Northfield officer, who said he could smell alcohol on his co-worker. No charges were ever brought.
The Times Argus obtained a crash report from the Department of Motor Vehicles that indicates Christopher Hoar was driving on Hallstrom Road on Aug. 17, when he crashed his 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The reporting agency listed on the report is Northfield police. The officer who wrote the report is Levi S. Willey. According to the police department’s Facebook page, Willey was hired in June, just two months prior to the crash.
In the report, Willey said he and Officer Brian Gosselin responded to a report of suspicious activity near Hallstrom Road at about 4 a.m. While heading to the scene, he said Gosselin received a call from Hoar, according to the report. Gosselin told Hoar they were responding to an incident where someone was banging on doors, and windows and Hoar told him he was responsible for the call, according to the report. Willey said Hoar reported he was going to homes looking for help because he had crashed his vehicle, the report states.
He said he and Gosselin picked up Hoar at Cumberland Farms and took him back to the crash scene. The convenience store is about five miles from where the crash occurred. It’s unclear how Hoar ended up there.
Willey stated they arrived at the crash site to find the Jeep in a ditch. It appeared Hoar had recently purchased the vehicle, because Willey said it had a temporary license plate on it, the report stated.
Willey said he did not activate his body camera at any point during the encounter, but he didn’t say in the report why that decision was made.
He said Hoar handed him the hot drink Hoar had picked up at Cumberland Farms so that Hoar could look for his cellphone, according to the report. During the exchange, Willey stated he smelled alcohol coming off of Hoar. However, Willey stated he didn’t see any other signs of impairment from Hoar, and Hoar didn’t have slurred speech.
“Because I did not see any visual signs of impairment, I did not conduct Field Sobriety Tests on (Hoar) and I did not administer a Preliminary Breath Test,” Willey wrote.
He said Hoar instructed him to treat the crash as a “TCNR,” which is a police acronym for “traffic crash non-reportable.” Because Willey treated the incident as a non-reportable crash, he indicated he had not taken any photos of the scene. However, photos were taken after the vehicle was towed, which showed the Jeep’s rear windshield was smashed out, its rear bumper was hanging off, as was the driver’s side mirror; the back corner of the Jeep had been crumpled inward. Willey said the tow truck driver estimated the damage done to the vehicle was between $7,000 and $8,000.
Willey stated he then gave Hoar a ride home after the scene was cleared. At that point, he stated he didn’t smell any alcohol on Hoar. He said Hoar told him he saw a deer in the road and swerved to avoid it, which caused him to end up in the ditch. Hoar told Willey he had tried to get the vehicle out of the ditch, but it was too steep, according to the report.
Willey said he went back to the scene nine days later and documented the evidence that showed Hoar had driven into a ditch and got wedged in a cluster of trees. He said it appeared Hoar tried to back out of the ditch because there were tire marks that showed “the tires were aggressively spun in an attempt gain traction and relocate the wedged vehicle.” He said once the Jeep gained traction it slid further down the ditch and hit more trees, which caused the damage to the back of the Jeep.
Willey’s report didn’t indicate whether Hoar was at fault for the crash. In the “Recommendations” section of his crash report, Willey wrote “None at this time.”
It doesn’t appear the police department issued any news release about the crash. No information about it is found on the department’s Facebook page, though other news releases are posted there. And no release was sent to The Times Argus in August.
It’s also unclear whether Hoar was ticketed for the crash or disciplined by the department. It’s unclear why a recently hired Northfield officer investigated a crash involving a co-worker. It’s also unclear why Hoar called Gosselin directly instead of calling 911 or the police department to report the crash.
Town Manager Jeff Schulz said in an email Friday, “The matter involving the crash remains under disciplinary investigation and no information can be provided at this time.”
Hoar is under investigation by the town for crashing a police cruiser in November.
According to the town, Hoar was driving on Union Brook Road Nov. 28 at about 6:30 p.m. when the 2017 police cruiser he was driving crashed. No other vehicles were involved and no other property was damaged. Hoar suffered minor injuries. The town recently bought a new cruiser for $34,000 to replace the totaled one, according to minutes from the Select Board’s Jan. 28 meeting. The town received about $18,000 from insurance to replace the cruiser.
According to the crash report involving the cruiser, obtained by The Times Argus through an open records request, Berlin Officer David Rhoden responded to the crash. Rhoden said in his report Hoar told him he was speeding and took his eyes off the road when he drove off the roadway and hit a retaining wall.
Northfield is in the process of investigating the crash, though it’s unclear what the investigation is focusing on and why it is ongoing over two months after the crash occurred. To assist in the investigation, the town has hired private investigator Daniel K. Troidl, a retired Vermont State Police detective who now operates a private investigation firm out of South Hero.
The Times Argus filed a public records request with Schulz on Jan. 27 seeking documents related to Troidl’s work, including any bills from Troidl to the town. Schulz denied that request, saying it was a “personnel matter” and exempt from the state’s public records law. The denial has been appealed by the Times Argus to the Select Board. The board is expected to take up the appeal at its regular meeting on Tuesday.
Schulz said last week he has not received any invoices from Troidl for the investigation involving the cruiser crash. The Times Argus filed another records request Wednesday seeking any invoices from Troidl during all of 2019. Schulz provided an invoice Friday from Troidl showing the town paid him $3,782.50 for 44.5 hours of work at a rate of $85 per hour. Schulz said he had to redact part of the invoice “due to possible discipline.” There is no date on the invoice and it doesn’t say what Troidl was investigating.
When asked whether he had investigated the August crash involving Hoar, Troidl said in an email Friday, “I hope you respect the fact that if I want to stay in business, I need to honor any confidentiality agreements I have with my clients. With that said, I am neither confirming or denying that such an agreement is or was in place with the Town of Northfield, VT.”