If you injure someone in a motor vehicle accident, leave the scene, and do not report the accident to the police, you have committed a crime called “conduct after an accident,” better known as “hit and run.” The state statute governing penalties for this crime states that anyone who commits it “shall be guilty of a class B felony.” The sentence ends right there. We checked the statute, and nowhere did we find the phrase “unless a police officer, in which case the person shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”
New Hampshire has seen two particularly high-profile hit and run cases this year. One of the accused is being charged with a felony, the other with a misdemeanor. Guess which one was a career police officer?
On March 22, someone hit two Bedford teenagers who were walking on a dark residential street, running over one of them, according to that victim’s father. The driver left the scene. Bedford Police linked the vehicle, an unmarked Manchester police cruiser, to then-Manchester Police Sgt. Stephen Coco. He was arrested on two counts of conduct after an accident. They say he was looking at something on his cell phone, struck the teens, and drove off.
Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway is prosecuting the case because it involved a Manchester officer. In September, he dropped the felony charges to misdemeanors. But he will not say why. The move is “part of a prosecution strategy. It would be unprofessional for me to say anything more at this time,” he said in September.
Last Saturday, Keon E. Ioannou, a well-known Keene restaurateur, was killed in a hit-and-run. Police arrested Tracy A. Burroughs, 41, of Keene, who shared an address with the victim. She was charged with felony conduct after an accident.
Conduct after an accident is a felony regardless of the severity of the victim’s injuries. Any accident resulting in “death or personal injury” is a felony under the law. So why is Coco facing misdemeanor charges while Burroughs faces a felony charge? Hathaway needs to provide an answer.