For Bill Brown, it’s been a nightmare that will not end. Last year, his 77-year-old brother, Bud, a former serviceman, was pulling out of a private driveway onto Sullivant Avenue on the West Side of Columbus, Ohio. Sullivant, a four-lane road that runs arrow-straight through some of the city’s most economically depressed areas and features everything from pre-WWII homes to tire shops along its length, has a speed limit of 35 miles per hour.
Brian Fritz was heading down Sullivant Avenue in his Ford Explorer at 106 mph when Bud’s old Astro conversion van crossed the street ahead of him. When Fritz saw Brown crossing the street, he tapped his brakes before swerving into the middle lane to catch the back of Brown’s Astro at 95 mph. Brown was thrown from the van and killed. Fritz was treated for minor injuries and released.
This week, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien announced that no charges will be filed against Mr. Fritz. We know why that is, right?
If you don’t, then the title of the news article should make it plain: No Charges Filed Against Franklin County Deputy. Deputy Fritz was responding to a call for help pursuing an alleged drunk driver, which is supposedly why he was doing 106 in a 35 on a crowded mixed-use street. Feel free to watch the video on 10TV’s site; it’s narrated by Tylar Bacome, who happened to sit next to me in homeroom during my freshman year of high school.
It’s possible that Deputy Fritz will face what Tylar calls “professional discipline,” although surely the department is aware that any significant “discipline” would simply embolden whatever plaintiffs can be assembled for a civil suit. I’m not going to argue that what the deputy did was illegal; after all, he was running with lights on, and as Mr. O’Brien is careful to note, he was wearing his full uniform and driving a clearly-marked cruiser.
The better question is: Was Deputy Fritz acting stupidly? I’d suggest that he was. Driving 106 mph in a 35 mph zone is excessive, no matter what the reason. Sullivant Avenue isn’t made for that kind of speed. I’ve driven that road a thousand times; many years ago I fell in love with a girl from the wrong side of the tracks down there. That road is full of the kind of people who have been forgotten in 21st-century digital America: the working poor, the disabled elderly, the uninsured. They’re driving old Astro conversion vans, battered Cavaliers with mismatched tires, and other vehicles that are just barely making it.
I’m sure that there are drivers and cars out there that would be able to respond appropriately to a pitch-black Explorer bearing down on them at 106 in a 35, appearing as a distant dark dot in their vision before swelling into a massive grille a few feet from them at a rate of one hundred and fifty-five feet every second. I might be able to find a driver like that on a NASA grid, or an ALMS podium, or an SCCA National Solo grid walk. I wouldn’t find that driver among the elderly pensioners just trying to get their Astros down the road.
To be a policeman is to assume responsibility for those who need your help. The weak, the disadvantaged, the helpless. Rich, powerful people don’t need cops; they have private guards. Politicians don’t need cops; they have security. The police exist to protect the people who can’t protect themselves. When you, as a police officer, forget that responsibility in favor of a blood-red adrenaline rush in which the citizens you’ve sworn to protect are merely terrified dots scurrying out of the way of your triple-digit progress, you may not be breaking the law — but you are abandoning your duty. I suspect that Deputy Fritz now understands that. Unfortunately, for Bud Brown, he had to learn it the hard way.