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Sheriff’s Deputy Fired For Failing To Stop Car Going Wrong Way, Toward Fatal Crash on I-95

| July 9, 2018

The scene of the crash on I-95 caused by a motorist going the wrong way last April. The motorist was killed. Moments earlier, he'd crossed paths with a deputy's cruiser on the exit ramp. (© FlaglerLive)

The scene of the crash on I-95 caused by a motorist going the wrong way last April. The motorist was killed. Moments earlier, he’d crossed paths with a deputy’s cruiser on the exit ramp. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy Robert Finn, a seven-year veteran of the agency’s road patrol division, was fired today as a result of failing to “take appropriate action” in accordance with agency policy, a decision that may have played a role in the death of a motorist and the critical injuries to another last April on I-95.

The morning of April 16, Finn was responding to a medical call when he took the southbound exit off I-95 at Palm Coast Parkway. Coming the other way on the single lane—the wrong way—was Wendell Parker, 32, who was at the wheel of a Chevy Cobalt.

Finn, his emergency lights previously activated, swerved to avoid the Cobalt—and kept going to the medical call rather than turn around and conduct a traffic stop on Parker.

Moments later, Parker, driving north on I-95’s southbound lanes, crashed head-on into Cynthia Soto’s Hyundai. Parker was killed. Soto, 35, of Flagler Beach, was critically injured and was since fitted with 20 screws in her right knee and a plate in her left forearm.

Finn drove to the medical call at 7 Carlson Court in Palm Coast, where a deputy and a corporal had already arrived. Three minutes later he went back to the crash scene on I-95, about which he’d heard from dispatchers. Once there, a witness to the crash came up to him and, Finn’s body camera rolling, told him that he saw a vehicle traveling the wrong way on the exit ramp and pass a cop car going the other way.

The cop car was Finn’s.

After his conversation with the witness, Finn turned off his body camera, took aside a commander at the scene and told him that he’d passed the Chevy going the wrong way and kept going. Finn told the commander that the reason he kept going was because he’d looked back and thought he’d seen the Chevy correct its course by turning the right way to go south rather than keep going north. But he was aware that the issue was “very serious,” according to an internal affairs investigation.

According to the investigation, Finn was actually out of his patrol area when dispatch sent out a call for deputies to respond to the medical call at 7 Carlson Court. That home was known to have drug issues, thus requiring the cops’ response. Finn was in the area of Laramie Drive when the call for deputies was transmitted, at 2:04 a.m. At 2:08 a.m., the dispatcher said it was safe for paramedics to respond, meaning that it was not an emergency law enforcement issue. Only a few seconds later did Finn start his response to the medical call, from Laramie Drive, according to the investigation. He did so with sirens and lights activated.

The investigator asked him if the emergency response was appropriate at that point. “No,” Finn responded, “however I did not know that it was clear for med,” meaning that the scene at Carlson had been cleared for paramedics.

Finn left I-95 on the southbound exit ramp at 2:11, passing Parker going the wrong way. “I slowed down and started looking out my back windows and mirrors to verify where it was going,” Finn  told the internal investigator, “and it appeared to me that the vehicle made a right onto I-95 southbound which would be going with the flow of traffic.”

“Did you physically see the vehicle turn around and see the headlights going southbound?” the investigator asked him.

“I thought I did, yes,” Finn replied. The witness at the scene said Parker’s vehicle kept going straight north on I-95, against the flow of traffic.

Finn did not tell dispatch that he had encountered a vehicle going the wrong way on the exit ramp.

“Did you feel that the necessity to respond to Carlson Ct. outweighed the necessity to pull a vehicle over that was going the wrong way?” the sheriff’s internal investigator asked him. “Even if you thought it corrected itself, do you think that the necessity for you to be at Carlson Ct. was more important than for you to conduct a traffic stop?”

“I was not aware that it was clear for med unit, at that time I believe my response was still needed at Carlson Ct,” Finn replied.

But Finn could have made the call to turn around and address the traffic stop without a supervisor’s permission—and according to policy, should have done so: the policy requires deputies to “take appropriate action on the occasion of a crime, disorder, or other deserving police action.” Finn’s response to the medical call was determined to have been “delated” to start with because he was “outside of his zone on Laramie Drive on his portable radio,” according to the internal investigation. A deputy and a corporal had arrived at the Carlson Court call before Finn.

The internal investigation leaves Finn’s responsibility for the fatal crash an open question: “It is unclear if the outcome of the situation would have been different had Dep. R. Finn taken action on the vehicle traveling in the wrong direction,” the investigation concludes, though his action was equally determined to be “unsatisfactory or incompetent,” leading to the agency’s decision to dismiss him.

“This is a tragic case where Deputy R. Finn witnessed a vehicle traveling in the wrong direction and failed to take immediate action,” Undersheriff Jack Bisland said in a release issued this afternoon. “While we will never know with certainty if Deputy R. Finn could have changed the sequence of events and prevented this crash by attempting to stop the vehicle, we do know that as a law enforcement officer it was his duty to take immediate action and he failed to do so.”

Finn had been reassigned to the Communications Center handling calls on the phone during the internal investigation. He has ten days to appeal the agency’s decision.

Five years ago a Flagler sheriff’s deputy responding to a call on State Road 100 at high speed was involved in a crash that resulted in the death of a motorist after the deputy’s vehicle rear-ended a van. The deputy, Christopher Crego, now 26, had been with the agency a year and a half. Crego was temporarily reassigned to the jail as a corrections deputy, then back to road patrol. He is still with the agency.

19 Responses for “Sheriff’s Deputy Fired For Failing To Stop Car Going Wrong Way, Toward Fatal Crash on I-95”

  1. Really says:

    Life or death mistake,

  2. Matanzas resident says:

    What was he doing on Laramie “out of his zone”? Kind of surprised anyone from the Sheriff’s office was in the L Section much less when they weren’t supposed to be…just sayin…

  3. Concerned Citizen says:

    Inexcusable actions on the deputies part. Most of the time multiple units are called on a med-call. He should have turned around and gone after the wrong way driver.

    Now he has to live with that decision. And it’s about time the Sheriff’s Office starts letting people go for not doing their job.

    Lastly why does Law Enforcement have the option of turning off body cameras. Kind of defeats their purpose when Officers can just randomly cut them off.

  4. The Geode says:

    Maybe if the driver was “black”… (SOMEBODY had to say it)

  5. Just me says:

    How do you know he wasn’t on a previous call backing up another officer????? You don’t……

  6. Shark says:

    Looks like another law suit because of malfeasance !!!!

  7. Trailer Bob says:

    Good call on this one. We expect our law enforcement to be intelligent and able to multitask intellectually, even in a short time span. I really doubt that I would have an opportunity to enter a highway going the wrong while passing a police officer…getting a pass, even if I DID change coarse eventually.

  8. FlagerRedo says:

    I’m confused here, so the correct protocol would be to stop, turn his police vehicle around, and follow the vehicle the wrong way on southbound i-95? He was in a no win situation. I personally would like to hear from Bisland to exactly what Officer Finn could have done other than to radio it in. Since Parker passed a police car with it lights on, I’m guessing he probably was too confused. Was Parker Drunk or on Drugs. These are police officers, not supermen. What it the police cruiser hit someone while it was going the wrong way? This is just a tragic accident.

  9. RP says:

    Hopefully the victim sues the crap out of them, thats dereliction of duty at a minimum. The officer should be charged with criminal negligence for not doing his job thereby allowing the injury to happen in the first place. If i was on that jury i would award the victim the max.

    At least he was fired but he should also be held liable in civil court, if it wasn’t for the officer being a crappy officer the victim wouldn’t be walking around the rest of their life partially disabled and full of screws and plates.

  10. Problem is.... says:

    The problem is, he didn’t go after the person or call it in. He kept going and didn’t mention that he saw it until after the crash.

  11. Kathy says:

    Isn’t there more to it than just the not stopping? Like the out of area (why?) And the 4 minutes to start toward a med call?

  12. Dave says:

    At this pace we will have a whole new police force before long. Anyone can be a cop, it takes a special person to be a GOOD cop. Not a drunk at work cop, not a out of your zone let the guy drive the wrong way and kill someone cop, not a womanizing court house cop, not a let the girl drive drunk and kill someone cop, not a drive to work drunk cop, not a infringe on our inmates rights cop, or a cop who uses offensive language cop . We need positive, compassionate, honest, understanding, heroes, non opinionated duty doers who protect the ones they are arresting not make things worse

  13. Concerned Citizen says:

    The bottom line here is he chose to take no action. He did not stop and turn around and it sounds like he did not stop and notify his supervisor.

    He was also hesitant to tell his watch commander and then turned off his body camera when talking to witnesses. Why do that unless you are concerned?

    I have been on similar calls myself where a decision had to be made. There will be incidents where one takes priority over the other. You follow protocol and notify your Supervisor and Dispatch. At the end of the day regardless of the outcome that is what saves your ass when things go South.

    This Deputy screwed up and got fired for it. And rightfully so. The time has come to where the Sheriff’s Office needs to hold it’s self and it’s employees accountable for their actions. Enough with the free passes.

  14. Kathy says:

    This…”We need positive, compassionate, honest, understanding, heroes, non opinionated duty doers who protect the ones they are arresting not make things worse”… was incredibly well said! And the only way this will happen is if it were to start at the top!

  15. Anonymous says:

    What a bunch of close-minded people you are it’s disgusting. Put yourself in this Deputy shoes and decide which call you would have made going to a medical call where there were known narcotics and somebody could have been overdosing or put yourself in a position to get killed on a highway by somebody driving the wrong way with that being said I cannot tell you how many times I had seen cars driving the wrong way and Palm Coast and never once did I see a cop do a traffic stop unfortunately this well forever haunt him so instead of putting somebody down when they are already down how about saying a prayer for all involved

  16. Anonymous says:

    Knowing several of the deputies from prior experience, I feel like the only mistake made was to not call it in to dispatch. He should of let the Supervisor on duty make the decision. That’s what they get paid for. It’s sad that he made a mistake and lost his job over this. Sometimes people just mess up. These deputies are under a lot of stress constantly. No one knows knows what it’s like unless you walk in their shoes. Other all, they do the best they can under the circumstances. They are just people like you and I. Give them a break! Next time you see one how about a wave and a thank you?

  17. Matanzas Resident says:

    Most wrong way drivers are turning onto Palm Coast Parkway and quickly realize. Not good but a heck of a lot better than driving into 70-80 mph traffic on 95. That’s the difference! You can not compare the 2.
    He was out of his “zone”…why? Never found that out. Maybe that’s why he didn’t go after this guy because he wasn’t supposed to be there. Anyone think of that?!

  18. Anonymous says:

    @ Matanzas Resident A deputy can leave their zone if they’re going to assist on a call. Or he could have been coming off or going on a break, there is a Dunkin Donuts over there. It can be less than three minutes, exit to exit depending who’s driving.

  19. highline says:

    @ Matanzas Resident A deputy can leave their zone if they’re going to assist on a call. Or he could have been coming off or going on a break, there is a Dunkin Donuts over there. It can be less than three minutes, exit to exit depending who’s driving.

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