The Double Standard
Former Danbury mayor receives warning after crash
Eriquez hit utility pole
By Eugene Driscoll | Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 06/28/2008 08:18:05 AM EDT
DANBURY, Connecticut -- Police issued a verbal warning to Gene Eriquez Monday after the former mayor crashed into a utility pole, leaving 530 nearby customers without power for two hours.
The accident happened at about 10 p.m., according to Danbury Police Capt. Robert Myles.
Eriquez, 55, of Starrs Plain Road, told police he was driving north on East Pembroke Road when a speeding car traveling in the other direction entered his lane.
"He apparently took some evasive action to the right, struck a telephone pole in front of 18 East Pembroke," Myles said.
Eriquez, who was not injured and declined medical attention at the scene, received a verbal warning for failing to stay in his lane.
Danbury Police Chief Al Baker said police smelled alcohol on the former mayor's breath but did not conduct a field sobriety test.
"I talked to the supervisor that was assigned to the accident," Baker said. "He said that there was an odor of alcohol, but that there was no obvious physical impairment and they did not feel alcohol was a factor in the accident."
The crash snapped an AT&T utility pole which held an electrical transformer and knocked out power to 530 Connecticut Light & Power customers for about two hours.
City officials said a state hazardous materials team was called to the scene to deal with the smashed electrical transformer.
The front end of Eriquez's 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee was damaged, but the former mayor was out of the vehicle -- shaken up but lucid -- and on his cell phone immediately after the accident, according to a resident who observed the scene from the balcony of his residence at 20 East Pembroke Road.
About a dozen people came out of their homes after hearing the impact from the crash.
Eriquez, a popular local politician, served 12 years as mayor of Danbury before opting not to seek a seventh two-year term in 2001.
This is the second time Eriquez has been involved in a car accident in Danbury, reportedly had alcohol on his breath but was not asked by police to take a field sobriety test, according to police.
In November 2003, Eriquez crashed his Jeep into the parking garage at Western Connecticut State University on White Street. He told police he was cut off by another car.
In that accident, police said Eriquez smelled of alcohol and was slurring his words. He was also bleeding heavily.
However, no blood samples were taken to test for alcohol after he was taken to Danbury Hospital, which hampered the investigation, then WestConn Police Chief Neil McLaughlin told The News-Times in February 2004.
University police closed the case three months after the crash. No charges were filed.
Regarding the lack of blood samples, WestConn police said at the time they were more concerned with Eriquez's well-being, as the car accident was first investigated as an assault based on initial eyewitness reports from the scene which proved to be incorrect.
Regarding Monday's accident, Eriquez said he had dinner and a cocktail at Koo at the Lake, a new restaurant at 29 East Pembroke Road.
He left the restaurant and said he was surprised by an oncoming vehicle's blinding headlights as he reached for his cell phone. He veered onto the road's shoulder and then struck the pole.
Asked if he had been given a break by police, Eriquez replied, "I was fine. There was no break to give. The airbag went off, which was shocking, but I was not impaired in anyway. There was nothing to it."
Eriquez said he was perfectly sober, as he was in the 2003 accident. Eriquez pointed out that he was involved in two other accidents in which he was rear-ended on Route 7 in Danbury.
"There was nothing that transpired that was out of the ordinary, other than that they were accidents," Eriquez said. "I understand that as a former public official, there will always be questions, but I'm just trying to go on my way as a private citizen."
Baker noted that officers can use discretion before conducting field sobriety tests. It is a judgement call, Baker said, and in this case, the investigating officer and his supervisor both said alcohol did not play a role in the crash.
"There have to be obvious signs of physical impairment. You could have a glass of wine and have an odor of intoxicants on you," he said. "You certainly still have complete control of your faculties. You are not legally intoxicated."
In Eriquez's case, Baker said, "He hit a telephone pole and knocked down some wires, but you also have an explanation that there was a phantom vehicle in his lane."
The accident report states Eriquez was unable to get a description of the vehicle because it was dark.
"He had to take evasive action," the chief said. "The severity of the telephone pole and the wires coming down may not necessarily relate to any type of odor of intoxicants."
Investigating Officer Michael Iaquinto did not complete a written report immediately after the Monday night accident, which is not unusual. He then had the next three days off.
However, Danbury police called the officer into work Wednesday night to complete the report, which The News-Times obtained Friday from the records division -- one day after Myles briefed a reporter on its contents.
Contact Eugene Driscoll
or at (203) 731-3332.
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