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Sweeney's crash raises questions

By WILL DOOLITTLE will@poststar.com
The Post Star (Glens Falls, NY) http://www.poststar.com
February 4, 2001

EASTON -- Questions are hovering over John Sweeney's car crash on Vly Mountain Road like fruit flies over a stale glass of wine.

Let's ask a few of them. It was 9:50 p.m. Jan. 23 when Mr. Sweeney, our congressman, went off the right side of the road on a curve and took out a power pole, dumping live wires across the road. Donna English, who lives nearby, ran out to help and ended up standing uphill from the crash, turning back cars approaching the crash site.

From about 10 p.m. to nearly midnight, no state police officer came to help her or relieve her, she said, although another neighbor, Edward Lundberg, did carry up some flares. Then, she said, Mr. Lundberg told her he was going to get someone to help direct traffic.

Easton Fire Chief Steve Bott, who lives nearby, said Lundberg came to his house. Bott called the dispatcher. But when the dispatcher got in touch with state police, Bott said, state police said they had things covered.

Why did the state police allow Mrs. English to stand in the roadway directing traffic for nearly two hours? Is it customary for the state police to rely on neighbors to direct traffic at crash sites, at night and in the cold and when live wires are involved?

Why did the state police reject the help of the fire department? Trooper Kevin Saunders, who was on the scene, has said he did not conduct any field sobriety tests on Mr. Sweeney. But Chic Wilson, the owner of the Willard Mountain Ski Center, has said that Mr. Sweeney was in his bar that night and the bartender remembers him having one or two glasses of wine.

Did Trooper Saunders ask Mr. Sweeney if he'd been drinking? If Trooper Saunders did ask, why didn't he test Mr. Sweeney? I cannot imagine that any trooper, coming upon a one-car crash with no obvious cause, would be willing to take the word of a driver that he'd had just one or two drinks.

Originally, Trooper Saunders said he didn't call a supervisor from the scene. But then state police Captain Frank Pace said Trooper Saunders did call a supervisor from the scene. If he did make a call, what was he told about how to handle Congressman Sweeney?

Since that night, Mr. Sweeney has said nothing about the crash publicly. He has refused to take numerous phone calls from the press and has not issued a statement. Why hasn't he explained what happened?

Why have his spokesmen said repeatedly that the crash was no big deal? It was a big deal to the skiers stranded on the Willard Mountain chairlift when the power went out. It was a big deal to the homeowners and the farmers along the road who lost their power all night. And it was a big deal to Donna English, who stood in the cold for nearly two hours to make sure no one got hurt.

But I guess Mr. Sweeney's spokesmen aren't thinking about anyone else's inconvenience. I guess they're thinking only about Mr. Sweeney and how they can manage things so his reputation survives this crash along with his good health.

Will Doolittle is Sunday editor of The Post-Star. He may be reached at will@poststar.com.

More from the week in review:

State police officials said it was not preferential treatment that prevented U.S. Rep. John Sweeney from being ticketed after he crashed his Jeep into a utility pole in Easton on Jan. 23. An area supervisor for the state police said the accident was "minor" and the trooper who investigated the crash did not recognize the congressman until after he was told by a dispatcher that the vehicle was registered to Sweeney's congressional campaign.

copyright 2001 The Glens Falls Post-Star