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Police officer, 4 others hurt in car wreck

By Linda Looney-Bond

lbond@news-daily.com

The Georgia State Patrol is investigating a car crash in which a Clayton County Police officer reportedly rear-ended another vehicle, resulting in injuries to five people - including the officer.

The crash occurred around 11:20 p.m., Saturday when Officer Brett Bell was traveling northbound on Tara Boulevard, near North Avenue, according to Lt. Paul Cosper, public information officer for the Georgia State Patrol.

"Vehicle number two - driven by the people that got hit - was in the middle lane on 19-41 going northbound," Cosper said. "He [Bell] had blue lights and siren activated," Cosper said. "The police officer ended up striking the car in the rear end."

Cosper said he did not have information about where Officer Bell was going at the time of the crash. He said the vehicle the officer hit was a Honda Civic, occupied by four people. No injuries at the scene were life-threatening, he said.

Referring to a Georgia State Patrol incident report, Cosper said, "I think they [occupants of the Honda] were ... complaining of injury. It doesn't look like any of them went to seek medical attention." Cosper said the police report was not yet available to be released to the public, but would likely be available "by the end of the week."

He said Officer Bell was transported to Southern Regional Medical Center, with an unspecified "lower extremity" injury. He said that, although the police report states that Bell was following too closely, the State Patrol officer, who responded to the scene of the accident, did not issue a citation to Officer Bell, nor was Bell charged as a result of the crash.

"It's the officer's discretion. You can hold someone at fault on the accident report, without citing them," Cosper said. He said it's not unusual for an officer to state in the police report that a driver is at fault in an automobile crash, but still choose not to cite the driver, depending on the circumstances of the incident.

Cosper also said that, apparently, the driver of the Honda "just stopped in the road" when Bell approached with lights and siren activated, as opposed to moving over to allow the officer to pass him. He also said the driver of the Honda received a citation for "not having a license on his person."

The State Patrol's investigation could be completed by late this week, according to Cosper. "I don't think any charges are pending," he said. Meantime, the Clayton County Police Department will conduct it's own investigation, according to Clayton County Deputy Police Chief Tim Robinson.

Robinson said Officer Bell, 26, joined the Clayton force in December, 2007. "We always review the accidents when an officer is involved," Robinson said. "The division commander normally reviews the accidents, and that's primarily to determine if there's a training issue," he said.

Robinson said he did not have information about where Bell was going at the time of the crash.

He said a separate county review board will investigate the crash to determine whether Officer Bell will be disciplined as a result of the crash. He said he did not know when the county investigation would be completed.

"If it is determined the accident was preventable, the punishment could range from a letter of reprimand, to suspension without pay," Robinson said. He said, thus far, Officer Bell had not been disciplined. However, Robinson said Bell has not returned to work since Saturday's crash.

"He was out yesterday and the day before, so he has not been back since the accident, because of the injury," Robinson said on Tuesday. He said Bell is apparently recuperating at home.

"Officer and citizen safety are of the utmost importance, and the incident will be reviewed, and will be handled accordingly," Robinson said.