New York Attorney General Letitia James’ Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit (SIPU) today released its report on the death of Susan Harrington. SIPU conducted a comprehensive investigation into the car crash that caused Ms. Harrington’s death and determined that there was no criminal conduct on behalf of the deputy from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) who was involved in the incident. After a comprehensive review of surveillance videos, a forensic examination of phone and text message records, and a review of Ms. Harrington’s and the WCSO patrol vehicle’s event data recorders, SIPU concluded that the officer involved fell asleep at the wheel.
In the early morning hours of August 19, 2019, after responding to a call, an officer from the WCSO was returning to the station to conclude an overnight shift that he did not normally work. While driving back, the officer fell asleep and collided with Ms. Harrington’s vehicle. The impact from the collision killed Ms. Harrington immediately.
The liability in this case did not rise to a criminal level. The officer did not engage in any conduct that might increase his risk of crashing, such as texting or using the computer that is provided in patrol vehicles. Toxicology reports also ruled out the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating substances that might have altered the deputy’s ability to operate the vehicle safely.
Nonetheless, the circumstances surrounding the incident — such as the time of day when it occurred and the fact that the deputy was alone in his vehicle — increased the chances for a sleep-related crash and SIPU has urged the WSCO to take appropriate measures to safeguard against this from happening in the future. SIPU recommends that WCSO, and other law enforcement agencies that frequently require their force to drive alone at night in rural areas, install advanced safety features in their vehicles. This includes additions such as lane departure warning systems that send a signal to the driver when the vehicle veers off course.
“My office takes its duty to investigate these deaths with the utmost seriousness,” said Attorney General James. “After an exhaustive examination of the facts surrounding this incident, we determined that Ms. Harrington’s death was a horrible and unintentional tragedy. In order to prove warrant criminal conduct, the officer involved must have knowingly engaged in behavior that would have caused a substantial risk and threat. More must be done to prevent this from happening in the future, and I urge the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies to take the steps necessary to prevent and safeguard against fatigue at the wheel. Ms. Harrington’s death was untimely and heartbreaking, and I offer my deepest condolences to her family, friends, and loved ones.”