Chief Wrinn: Hit-and-run cases are tough to solve
BRATTLEBORO -- Eugene Narrett, a published author and scholar, had recently taken up painting again and he was in Brattleboro Friday night for the first opening of his work in a Brattleboro gallery.
It was a cold and dreary night but downtown Brattleboro was abuzz with all the excitement Gallery Walk brings, along with the pre-Christmas festivities that kept the streets busy.
Just after 7 p.m., as Narrett was approaching his car on Western Avenue, a vehicle hit him and left the scene.
The Brattleboro Police Department is investigating the crash.
Narrett, 64, from Maynard, Mass., was in Brattleboro during Gallery Walk because he was visiting Gallery in the Woods on Main Street which was showing some of his work.
His brother Seth Narrett, who has been in contact with the Brattleboro Police, said his brother was 200 feet from his car on Western Avenue before the vehicle struck and killed him.
Narrett's family had a vacation home in South Windham and Seth Narrett said they have been coming up to southern Vermont for decades.
"We all had a long-term love affair with Vermont," Seth Narrett said. "Eugene had taken up painting again and he did it because he loved it. He loved to push himself, he was not doing this for the money. This was the first time he was showing in Brattleboro and he must have been so excited about it. Everyone is shocked. Everyone is heart broken."
Brattleboro Police Chief Gene Wrinn declined to comment directly about the case, saying that the investigation is ongoing.
Wrinn did say a fatal hit-and-run can be very hard to investigate.
If the victim dies and there are not many witnesses who saw the crash, police can have a hard time tracking down the driver.
"It has its challenges," said Wrinn. "It's important to get as much information when it is fresh and you hope someone comes forward. You just have to keep your ears to the ground and keep working it."
A person who is convicted in Vermont of a hit and run crime that results in a death can get up to 15 years in prison.
According to Wrinn there are a variety of state laws and local ordinances that govern how and where pedestrians can cross the road.
Downtown there is an ordinance for jay walking, and a police officer can give out a ticket if someone crosses outside the cross walk.
But Wrinn said the department is walking a tight rope when trying to keep pedestrians from jay walking.
Last year an officer handed out a few tickets and some residents were outraged that the police department would waste their resources on cracking down on otherwise law abiding citizens.
And handing out tickets, as well, to residents or tourists who fail to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk can have unintended consequences.
"It would be easy to put the hammer down and issue tickets but then you get the reputation of being a radar trap town. You don't want tourists to avoid us and go spend their money in Burlington," Wrinn said. "The officer always has the discretion to make a stop and issue a warning. I don't say they should do it and I don't say they should not do it. I'm sure this issue will be brought up in meetings and there will be more conversations to see what changes we might need to make."
Narrett was the fourth person killed by a vehicle on Brattleboro streets in the last two years.
Following the three other deaths, which all occurred between late 2011 and early 2012, the town has been taking on a number of different strategies to make the roads safer.
Matt Mann, a senior planner at Windham Regional Commission, said Brattleboro has been trying to address pedestrian and bicycle safety issues.
The town put extra money into the budget to paint the cross walks and the Department of Public Works has made it a priority to make sure lights are working at all the dangerous cross walks in town.
Mann said education can be the most important and useful tool, but in a town like Brattleboro which gets carloads of tourists throughout the year the local education campaign can sometimes only go so far.
Mann said the town has to keep working to create a culture among drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists.
When a visitor gets behind a motorist who stops at cross walks and travels the speed limit he says it creates a culture of safety that can make a difference, even to visitors who are passing through.
"When everyone respects everyone else's mode of transportation it carries over," Mann said. "People who are not from the area pick up on that, so it is up to everyone to make that happen. The little things build up over time."
The town also has been working with Local Motion, a bicycle and pedestrian safety organization based in Burlington.
Jason Van Driesche, Director of Advocacy and Education at Local Motion, has been working with the town to raise traffic safety awareness and help the town come up with infrastructure improvements to get drivers to slow down.
Van Driesche said education was an important part of the work he has been doing around town.
Local Motion helped pay for the reflective bands that the town has been handing out and he said the next step will be to identify locations in town that might benefit from infrastructure improvements and then figure out how to pay for them.
"We are going to do anything we can do to help the town plan the next step and take action," said Van Driesche. "It took us 80 or 100 years to get to where we are today in terms of having a transportation system that is focused on cars and speed and to back out of that system is not going to happen over night. We have a lot of work ahead of us to remake our communities so that people do have a choice in how they get around."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.
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