CRAWFORD — Crawford town officials have denied access to records requested by the Times Herald-Record after the fatal Dec. 5 crash on Route 17K in which a driver died fleeing town police.
The head-on collision happened around 8:30 a.m., killing 22-year-old Louis Williams and seriously injuring the other driver.
A Crawford officer had tried to stop Williams on Route 17K, but Williams fled, crossing into the Town of Montgomery. According to police, Williams’ vehicle crossed the center line and struck a vehicle driven by 27-year-old Kristopher Kolvenbach, a part-time cop for the villages of Montgomery, Maybrook and Walden.
Williams, of the Town of Montgomery, was pronounced dead at the scene, state police said. Kolvenbach suffered serious neck and leg injuries and is recuperating at home after a stay at Westchester Medical Center.
A month later, basic questions remain, including the identity of the Crawford police officer who tried to stop Williams, the reason the officer was attempting to stop Williams, and whether the officer was still pursuing Williams when the crash occurred.
Police agencies routinely release such details following fatal crashes, but did not do so in this case.
Potential answers to those questions were further delayed this week when the Town of Crawford denied two record requests made by the Times Herald-Record under the state Freedom of Information Law. A third record request has not yet been answered.
A request for the time cards of all police employees who worked during the week of the crash was filed with the town on Dec. 7. The town clerk denied the request in an email Wednesday, saying that the records “are compiled for law enforcement purposes and, if disclosed, would interfere with a law enforcement investigation and could endanger the life or safety of a person.”
But time cards are not police records, according to Kristin O'Neill, assistant director of the state's Committee on Open Government, which issues advisory opinions on FOIL matters.
Time cards are kept as business records, O'Neill said, and would not meet the standard for denying the request. "The first part of that (requirement) is that the record must be compiled for law enforcement purposes,” she said. "Here, it feels like it doesn't meet that first hurdle."
Even if that first hurdle had been cleared, a 1993 advisory opinion written by the committee's executive director, Robert Freeman, casts doubt on the town's claim that the release of officers' time cards would endanger anyone. The opinion reads in part: “Further, if a request pertains to prior activity … it is difficult to envision how disclosure, after the fact, could endanger anyone’s life or safety.”
A request for the police blotter entry and incident report related to the crash was filed with the town on Dec. 6 and was denied on Thursday, for the following reasons: “such records are compiled for law enforcement purposes and, if disclosed, would interfere with a law enforcement investigation; if disclosed, would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy; and are inter-agency or intra-agency records which are not excepted records.”
O’Neill said the reasons may be valid but are “probably overly broad.”
For instance, the records may interfere with an investigation. Regardless, the files could be released with redacted information that is confidential to the investigation or information that is private, O’Neill said.
The exemption from FOIL for inter- or intra-agency records comes with an exception: statistical data or factual information.
O’Neill said police blotter entries, which are typically open under FOIL, provide basic, factual information like time and location, information that should be released.
The Record is appealing the denials.
The town has not issued a formal response to a third FOIL request, filed with the town on Dec. 6, for the police department’s pursuit policy.
Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler said shortly after the crash that state police and his office are investigating the crash. No additional information has been released following a press release issued in December.