Survivor in fatal 2015 pursuit sues New Boston Police Department

  • A memorial to Trevor Gonyer, a Dunbarton teenager who died in July 2015 in a car crash, is seen in November. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor file

  • Aaron Hodgdon —Courtesy

  • Trevor Gonyer —Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 8/23/2018 6:48:40 PM

A passenger involved in a fatal car crash in Weare three years ago is suing the New Boston police department and the officer who pursued the vehicle across town lines.

Aaron Hodgdon, of Weare, is accusing New Boston police Sgt. Stephen Case of negligence and reckless conduct by violating the department’s pursuit policy when he followed a truck from New Boston to Weare on July 3, 2015. The truck contained three teenagers – Hodgdon, Benjamin Cook and Trevor Gonyer of Dunbarton – all of whom were ejected from the vehicle during the rollover crash. Gonyer died; Hodgdon and Cook suffered serious injuries.

The civil suit was filed July 2 – one day before the statute of limitations ran out – in Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester. Hodgdon is asking for attorney fees and “all other relief to which the plaintiff may be entitled.” The suit names Case and New Boston’s police department as defendants, saying the department was “vicariously liable” for Case’s actions as his employer.

The chase spanned nearly three miles and ended when Case discovered the vehicle had crashed and the three boys, including a dog named “Leo,” laying injured in a field of scrub brush and rocks.

The department’s policy at the time stated pursuit is only justified when the officer has reason to believe the violator has committed or attempted to commit a serious felony against persons or serious injury or death will occur if the violator is not apprehended.

Case engaged in a dangerous high-speed pursuit in clear violation of department policy, according to Hodgdon’s attorney, Seth Greenblott.

“Defendant Case knew or should have known that the pursuit was high-risk within the meaning of the pursuit policy and that occupants of the truck had not committed serious felony crimes nor did he have a reasonable basis to believe that death or serious bodily injury would result if the operator of the truck was not apprehended,” Greenblott states.

Case, who knew the truck from previous run-ins, should have ended the chase instead of accelerating at high speeds across town lines, the suit states.

“Defendant Case violated every applicable provision” of the policy and caused Hodgdon to continue suffering from the incident, Greenblott said, including but not limited to “personal injuries, chronic medical conditions and corresponding car, emotional distress and lost wages.”

The incident

Case wrote after the crash that he saw a blue-and-silver GMC pickup fishtailing out of Milwaukee Iron Works on Route 114 in New Boston, located two-tenths of a mile from the Weare town line, about 12:50 a.m. Case was heading in the opposite direction, but the truck’s speed, behavior and darkened tail lights made him suspicious. He made a U-turn and turned on his blue emergency lights, and saw the truck’s brake lights flick on, which he believed indicated the driver saw him.

Case followed the truck for 2.7 miles along Route 114, reaching speeds of up to 78 mph on the 45 mph road and lost sight of the vehicle at least twice – behavior, Greenblott alleges, that led to the truck crashing in a field across from Cold Springs RV in Weare. In all, the chase lasted less than two minutes.

Case did not notify dispatch of his pursuit of the vehicle until he was 1.3 miles into the chase, according to dispatch audio and his report, and did not turn on his siren until late into the chase. An officer’s chief is supposed to be contacted and give permission to allow a pursuit across town lines; if they can’t be reached, the pursuit must end, the policy states. In this case, New Boston police Chief James Brace did not learn of the pursuit until after the crash.

The department policy stresses that pursuits can be dangerous and are “... unacceptable when the pursuit itself endangers life more than the escape of the person being pursued.”

Greenblott alleges Case began the pursuit despite “having reasonable suspicion of only minor traffic violations;” that Case should have known the pursuit would violate the department’s policy, and that Case should have known a felony or death would not occur if he did not pursue the vehicle.

Public records showed that Case was familiar with the truck’s owner, Nick Bourgeois, and knew that Cook often drove the vehicle. He also knew Milwaukee Iron Works belonged to Cook’s father. At the scene of the crash, Case initially said he thought the victims were Bourgeois and Cook before they were identified, according to dispatch audio obtained as part of a Monitor investigation into the crash.

Evidence and investigation

Brace has previously said defining a pursuit is tricky because a pursuit requires the driver to acknowledge that he or she is being followed. However, Brace wouldn’t discuss Case’s written narrative that states he believed the driver of the truck knew he was being followed.

New Hampshire state police Sgt. Christopher Storm placed the blame on Cook. He based his findings on the fact that Cook was injured primarily on his left side, and Hodgdon was injured on his right side, as well as witness testimony that placed Cook in the driver’s seat.

Charges against Cook were ultimately dropped after his attorney, Julian Jefferson, argued that the teens had been transported to a hospital before Storm arrived, making it impossible for him to study how all three had landed after being ejected. He also noted Storm – a full-time member of the N.H. State Police Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Unit – had no formal training in rollover crashes and multiple ejections or in forensic pathology.

Through a series of right-to-know requests and a review of court documents, the Monitor found no record of an independent review of officer Case’s actions.

Brace has refused to discuss the case except to say he believes Cook was responsible for the crash, not his officer.

“I believe the person responsible was the person who was charged,” he said in an interview late last year. “I trust the state police conducted a thorough investigation and identified the right person. I have no reason to believe otherwise.”

Greenblott said he filed the suit in response to the Monitor’s investigation, saying he was unaware Case had been in pursuit of the vehicle at the time of the crash.

“My client was a passenger in the vehicle who had no control over whether the driver fled or didn’t flee,” he said. “The pursuit was the direct cause of my client being injured.”

Greenblott said Hodgdon suffers from ongoing cognitive impairment due to injuries from the crash.

He declined to comment on whether the Gonyer family was aware of the suit.

Chief Brace did not respond to a phone call or an email requesting comment.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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