ASHEVILLE - A police lieutenant's driving left of center infraction was dismissed Sept. 22 after his insurance covered damages from the wreck he caused, according to court documents.
Lt. Sean Thomas Aardema, 43, will not have to appear in court and will face no other legal consequences in the July crash on U.S. 74A that totaled two cars, including one that was carrying an infant.
Police Chief David Zack said in an Oct. 3 email that APD will not conduct an internal investigation of the incident. Aardema is head of the division that reviews civilian complaints against police and investigates all "employee-involved vehicle collisions."
The Citizen Times previously reported that Aardema, a 23-year veteran of the police force who oversees professional standards, was given a citation by the Highway Patrol for driving left of center in Fairview on July 28. According to the other driver and Highway Patrol records, Aardema totaled two vehicles in the wreck, including his own. There was a baby in the other driver's vehicle and two other passengers in Aardema's car.
"I'm pretty disappointed, to say the least," Mike Scow, the other driver, said of the infraction being dismissed. "It is not the most surprising result."
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The reason for the dismissal: the low-level infraction itself.
"Damage claims arising from the wreck have been settled," a document signed by prosecutor Justin Philbeck says. An attached insurance statement says that Nationwide covered $6,502.96 in property damage.
"Generally speaking, when there's only property damage and there aren't other extenuating circumstances, like driving while impaired or hit and run or something else, that's generally the case," Philbeck said of the infraction being dismissed after insurance covered property damage costs.
Philbeck is an attorney with the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys who specializes in traffic law. The Buncombe County District Attorney's Office referred the case to Philbeck, DA Todd Williams said.
"Mr. Aardema's a command staff officer at APD," Williams said in a message. "His citation was referred to the traffic resource prosecutor in an abundance of caution to avoid the appearance of any conflict of interest."
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For Scow, it has been a frustrating back-and-forth with the Highway Patrol since the wreck, he said.
He was driving to the Flying Cloud Farm produce stand on the curvy, two-lane U.S. 74A when Aardema hit the side of his car. According to Highway Patrol records, Aardema was attempting to finish a pass. Scow had his months-old son in the car. After Aardema hit them, they went down an embankment. He and his baby emerged unharmed, but both cars were totaled, the records say.
Scow said he has since reached out to the Highway Patrol to understand why there were no other charges, and he told the Citizen Times that the section of road Aardema passed on was not passable, a claim that seems to be supported by the Highway Patrol's own diagram of the crash, which shows a solid line on Aardema's side of the road. But a Highway Patrol spokesperson previously told the Citizen Times that Aardema could pass on that section of road.
The conversations have only led Scow to distrust law enforcement more, he said.
Aardema's infraction dismissal was a case of "law enforcement looking out for law enforcement," he said.
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Though he has been critical of law enforcement, he did hold the Highway Patrol in a higher regard than most agencies prior to the accident, he said.
Aardema began working with APD in July 1999, according to a copy of his personnel record that was released Sept. 27. He makes $89,020.36 a year. He was suspended in 2004, though no reason is listed.
Ryan Oehrli is the breaking news and social justice reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Asheville policeman's driving left of center infraction dismissed