ANSONIA — The officer in charge of investigating an alleged drunk driving crash involving the city’s former lawyer overlooked a key piece of evidence early on, according to an internal affairs report.
The mistake — overlooking data connected to blood alcohol content in a medical file — was eventually caught by the police chief.
The report concludes the error was not an attempt to help Kevin Blake, the former city lawyer for Ansonia and Derby who was running for Seventh Ward Alderman at the time of the 2017 wreck.
However, the report also says a Seymour police officer texted the Ansonia police chief shortly after the crash, writing “we need to save our friend Kevin Blake,” and showed up at Griffin Hospital asking questions about the investigation.
Ansonia Police Chief Kevin Hale did not respond to the text, and Ansonia cops at the hospital told the Seymour officer, identified as Jack Harkins, the case would be investigated like any other.
Harkins, a friend of Blake, later admitted he should not have sent the message to Hale. He has since retired from the Seymour Police Department.
Blake crashed into a parked car July 26, 2017. Eyewitnesses said he was slurring his speech, smelled of alcohol, said he had been drinking, and said “I’m f’d” immediately after the wreck.
He was later given a ticket for failing to stay in his lane. He was charged with drunken driving a weeks after the crash.
His criminal case has been pending for more than a year in Derby court. His next court date is scheduled for Jan. 11, 2019. An email seeking comment was sent to his lawyer Wednesday.
The internal affairs report, authored by Ansonia Police Lt. Andrew Cota, gives a detailed account of what allegedly happened before and after the crash.
It includes summaries of interviews with Harkins, the department’s command staff, the two investigating officers, other Ansonia police officers at the crash site, two Griffin Hospital employees, and almost every firefighter and medical personnel who responded to the crash.
The report specifically states there had been “allegations that Ansonia Police were trying to hide the results of Kevin Blake’s possible intoxication on the day of his accident.”
So Cota repeatedly asked his subjects if anyone from outside the department applied pressure to help Blake, who was also an Ansonia volunteer fire department captain at the time.
Cota did not interview Blake because the criminal case is still pending.
Before The Crash
According to the report, Blake had been at Harkins’ house prior to the crash.
Harkins was trying to get his boat running. Blake was there to help, and started drinking alcohol. Harkins couldn’t say how much Blake had consumed, because Blake was popping in and out of the house while Harkins tinkered with the boat.
Harkins decided to hook his boat to a truck and tow it to a mechanic’s shop. At that point he noticed Blake had left the house.
Harkins started transporting the boat, then heard a call on the scanner telling paramedics to respond to a crash on Franklin Street in Ansonia involving a 58-year-old man at about 4:15 p.m.
Harkins was concerned it was Blake, the report states.
At The Crash Site
Meanwhile, immediately after the crash, Blake allegedly displayed signs of being intoxicated. But medical personnel were also worried he had injured his head. The need for medical attention precluded police from doing a field sobriety test.
Word immediately started getting out that Blake had been in a crash. Firefighter Daniel Mudry notified Webster Hose Chief Mike Eheman that the crash involved a department captain.
At 4:44 p.m. Ansonia Police Lt. Patrick Lynch alerted the department’s command staff, including the chief, that Blake had crashed.
An unnamed firefighter at the scene approached a fellow volunteer who works as a state trooper and asked if there was anything he could do to help Blake, according to the report.
The trooper said it was Ansonia’s case and they “had to do what they had to do.”
At The Hospital
Blake was taken to Griffin Hospital in Derby. Harkins, the Seymour cop, arrived at the hospital as Blake arrived by ambulance.
Harkins asked Ansonia Police Officer Jon Edwards what was happening to the case, according to the report. Edwards said it was being treated like any other case. Edwards was in charge of the investigation, but he said he did not think Harkins was aware of that fact.
Ansonia Police Officer Shawn Mendenhall, a probationary cop being trained by Edwards at the time, said an off-duty Seymour police officer who he did not know asked “if there was anything they could do for Blake.”
Harkins acknowledged talking to Ansonia officers at the hospital, joking that since Blake hit his head officers could not do a field sobriety test.
“(Harkins) said the officers told him that they would investigate the case just like any other case and they left,” according to the internal affairs report.
Around the time this was happening, Eheman, the Webster Hose fire chief, advised Ansonia firefighter Matthew Casini not to discuss anything with Harkins.
According to the report, Harkins waived down Ansonia Police Sgt. Jennifer Guisto as she drove by the intersection of Wakelee Avenue and Division Street just off hospital grounds.
Guisto, according to the report, summarized the conversation as the following: “Officer Harkins was extremely upset saying Kevin Blake was at his house drinking and he (Harkins) is the one to blame. I explained to Officer Harkins (that) Kevin Blake is his own person and he makes his own decisions and to stop blaming himself. I did not speak to him about the investigation.”
In a separate interview, Harkins told Cota that he asked Guisto about the case but that she said the case had to be investigated “by the book,” pointing out many people at the crash knew Blake.
Harkins acknowledged texting Chief Hale about an hour after the crash asking for help but that that chief never responded. Harkins told Cota he should not have sent the text.
The chief kept the text, and provided it to Cota for inclusion in his internal affairs report.
Seymour Police Chief Paul Satkowski said he in an email he was not aware of any internal affairs case involving the now-retired officer. The Valley Indy had provided the department with a copy of the internal affairs report Wednesday.
The Medical Records
Blake checked out of Griffin Hospital against medical advice, according to the report.
Edwards and Mendenhall then started working on a search warrant to get access to Blake’s medical records, a process that takes time. This specific warrant was delayed because a judge could not sign it because of a conflict of interest.
In addition, the court advised the department the paperwork could not be authored by Mendenhall because he was a rookie.
On Aug. 16 the officers received a warrant and went to Griffin Hospital to get the medical records.
But a records clerk, both officers said, told them no blood had been drawn from Blake, so there was nothing related to Blake’s blood-alcohol content in the medical file.
Edwards reviewed the file and did not see data connected to blood-alcohol content. In addition, the officers said the hospital no longer had Blake’s blood sample, so it could not be seized by police and tested independently.
The officers advised high-ranking officers at the department of the situation. They were advised that Blake could only be charged with a moving violation, presumably because they had no medical evidence pointing to his alleged intoxication.
Blake received a ticket on Aug. 20, 2017.
On Sept. 7, 2017, Chief Hale decided to open Blake’s medical records and have a look at himself.
According to the internal affairs report, Hale discovered that, in fact, Blake’s blood had been tested, and that the raw data indicated Blake was likely intoxicated.
Hale ordered Lt. Lynch to convert the data, which indicated Blake’s blood alcohol content was almost three times the legal limit.
In an interview with The Valley Indy Wednesday, Hale said he wanted to make sure the Blake investigation was handled properly due to Blake’s standing in the community and the notoriety the first stories on the crash received.
“If there was an error, that would be on me. So I wanted to be able to say that I checked this out, that I looked it myself,” Hale said.
Using the newly discovered evidence, police applied for an arrest warrant, and Blake was charged Sept. 12, 2017.
The internal affairs report notes that Edwards did not know who Blake was, and that he acknowledged he simply missed the data in the medical records.
“The accident did run a “normal” course until information was missed in the medical records,” Cota concludes in the report. “There does not appear that there was any attempt to hide information. It appears to be an oversight on the investigating officer’s part by not identifying/locating this information and/or not asking for help, assistance or advice from a superior Officer.”
Edwards received a written warning from his supervisors. But the report also notes that a supervisor could have caught the mistake, too, had they immediately reviewed the medical documents.
The report recommends the department review its procedures to prevent the mistake from happening again.