1. Archive

Officer in fatal crash will resign

Christopher L. Thompson, the Crystal River police officer whose spotty driving record has received intense scrutiny since he struck and killed a pedestrian while driving to work last week, told supervisors Tuesday he will resign from the force.

Thompson, 25, of Dunnellon, has been with the department since Jan. 4. He did not return a call seeking comment on Tuesday.

Crystal River police Chief Jim Farley said Thompson was "accepting the handwriting on the wall" by resigning. "We wouldn't have been able to put him back behind the wheel of a police car," Farley said.

Thompson's resignation will be effective Thursday. He will remain on sick leave until then. Farley said Thompson will be paid for any sick time or vacation he has accrued. Since 1993, Thompson has been issued 15 traffic tickets and was cited in three car wrecks. The most recent crash was in May, when he ran a stop sign and struck another vehicle with his patrol car. Thompson's driver's license has been suspended twice.

Thompson struck 18-year-old Randy G. Leathers while driving west on County Road 488 about 10:15 p.m. June 10. Leathers' body was thrown 33 feet. He was killed immediately.

Thompson lost control of his 1998 pickup truck following the collision and crashed into a utility pole. He suffered minor injuries.

Sgt. Joe Palminteri, who headed the investigation into the crash for the Citrus County Sheriff's Office, said Monday he thought it was unlikely charges would be brought against Thompson. He concluded Leathers was near the center line of the highway at the time of the crash, a view supported by statements from eight witnesses who said that they saw a white male wearing dark clothing walking in the road just before the wreck that night.

Palminteri estimated Thompson's speed at 60 mph, 10 miles over the posted speed limit of 50. However, Palminteri said he typically does not charge suspects with negligence if they are within 10 miles of the limit.

The state attorney's office will make the final determination on whether criminal charges will be filed.

But regardless of the outcome, Farley said it would be difficult for Thompson to continue as an officer.

"He would always be under a microscope," Farley said. "Every time he went somewhere in a police car, people would be watching him and waiting for him to do something wrong."

Farley said Thompson's driving history might also be a liability in court.

Thompson is a graduate of Lake Weir High School in Marion County and a five-year veteran of the Air Force. He told supervisors he planned to resign following a Monday meeting with Assistant Chief Gordon Rowland. The two discussed different options available to Thompson, including the possibility that he could be fired, Farley said.

After the collision, Farley defended hiring Thompson, saying his positive qualities and enthusiasm outweighed his problems behind the wheel.

But Tuesday, Farley said his department will be revising its hiring standards to weed out applicants with poor driving records.

"We all are blessed with 20/20 vision when it comes to hindsight," Farley said."If I could go back in time now and make that decision over again, it would have been made differently."

Farley said the department will adopt a system similar to the one used by the Florida Highway Patrol, which flags applicants who have more than four moving violations in a two-year period.