The mystery of how a new, $37,000 Bakersfield police cruiser was destroyed on an unopened freeway last month was finally revealed by the police chief Friday.
Chief Greg Williamson said an officer took the vehicle on a segment of the unfinished Westside Parkway looking for joyriding motorcyclists who previously had been reported driving in the area. He said the officer entered the parkway in the area of Calloway Drive and Brimhall Road.
"He was not dispatched out there, but there have been various sorts of crimes reported in the area," Williamson said.
While on the freeway, Williamson said, the officer drove too fast.
Williamson identified the officer as Senior Police Officer Richard Davis, a 15-year-veteran of the department.
The chief said Davis had been driving 62 mph when he hit a gap in the roadway and totaled the vehicle. Williamson wouldn't comment on any potential disciplinary action against Davis, but said it had been determined that Davis was driving at an unsafe speed for the condition of the road.
The incident took place about 7:30 p.m. on March 16. Sunset that day was 7:04 p.m.
“He was not dispatched out there, but I can tell you that since the construction projects have started on the TRIP we’ve had numerous requests to respond to various sorts of crimes,” Williamson said.
TRIP refers to the Thomas Roads Improvement Program, a major roadbuilding project in Bakersfield.
There’s a 14-foot gap and an 18-inch vertical difference from where Davis left the roadway and then crashed on the other side, Williamson said. He wouldn’t comment on whether Davis had been injured.
Williamson said Davis’ supervisor, an operations captain, should finish examining a report on the incident by the end of next week and it will then be submitted to Williamson, who will decide what, if any, disciplinary action should be taken.
Williamson said there was no truth to an unnamed witness’ comments to KERO Channel 23 regarding the witness being intimidated and told to delete photos taken of the damaged vehicle. The chief said officers did tell a tow truck driver not to take photos because the driver had been sent to the scene to tow the vehicle and taking photos isn’t part of the job.
A construction supervisor took photos but was not told to stop taking them or to delete the ones that had been taken, Williamson said.
The department’s new Ford Interceptors cost $23,000 each, $37,000 including additions made specially for the department. Williamson said the loss will come out of the department’s general fund.
The Westside Parkway is a $188 million project that will extend from Truxtun Avenue to Heath Road. Construction began in 2009 and is largely funded with state money.
The final phase now under construction will extend the east-west freeway from Allen Road to Heath Road, and the entire eight-mile parkway will then extend from Truxtun Avenue west to Heath Road and ease travel on the west side of Bakersfield.
The project is overseen by TRIP. Public Outreach Manager Janet Wheeler said she wasn’t aware of any specific incident involving members of the public driving on the parkway, but said she knows that people have reported motorists getting on the parkway and using it after hours.
She said the parkway is closed to the public and there’s a lot of work that remains to be done.
“It’s still an active construction zone, there are areas where it’s not safe to be and it’s under the management of the construction company,” she said.
Sun Valley-based Security Paving Co. is in charge of the final phase of the project. The company’s safety manager could not immediately be reached.