Probe clears wardens accused of speeding to call

Posted April 08, 2010, at 9:24 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:02 p.m.

GREENVILLE, Maine — No corroborating evidence was found during an internal investigation by the Maine Warden Service into complaints that wardens used improper speed through a school zone in February while en route to a rescue call on Moosehead Lake.

Col. Joel Wilkinson of the Maine Warden Service told Greenville selectmen Wednesday that the wardens, who responded on Feb. 11 to a report of a snowmobiler who had fallen through the ice, had violated no state laws or policy.

Selectman Bruce Hanson, who raised the issue with fellow selectmen in late February, said he personally had witnessed two wardens speeding by the Greenville schools as the flashing yellow lights were displayed. He said one of the wardens passed another vehicle in the school zone and he estimated one of them had been traveling at least 60 miles an hour.

“Very easily they could have killed two or three kids for nothing,” Hanson said in February. He said scanner traffic reported the person had been in the water for five minutes, which likely meant he wouldn’t have survived.

Witnesses reported to wardens that they saw a snowmobiler in black struggling in the water. When neither a body was found nor a person was reported missing during the two-day search, the wardens concluded that the black shape must have been an otter since there was evidence on the ice that an otter was in the area.

Wilkinson defended his department’s response to the call. He said none of the wardens had heard the particular scanner traffic Hanson had eluded to and even if they had, they still would be expected to respond as quickly as they could. He said a person in cold water typically could stay functional for 30 minutes until hypother-mia sets in.

“There is no more serious of a call than someone in the water in the winter who needs help,” Wilkinson said. “If my staff had not responded in that manner, I’d be questioning why they didn’t.”

Business owner Rocky Elsemore, who also had complained about the speed and had been interviewed by the warden service, said Wednesday his concern was for pedestrians.

Two other residents who spoke to Greenville Police Chief Jeff Pomerleau about the incident were among those interviewed by the warden service, Wilkinson said. He said a lengthy investigation was conducted and several people were interviewed, but there was no factual finding that the wardens had violated state law.

Wilkinson said neither the high school principal nor the superintendent had received any complaints from parents or faculty members. He said the warden towing the department’s airboat could not have been speeding, and another warden said he had followed a vehicle through town that failed to pull over for his blue lights, so he could not have been speeding.

On Wednesday, Hanson said he would try to retrieve video from the school’s security camera to support his complaint. Hanson said the warden had been “doing 60 miles an hour,” and he faulted the department for policing itself. He said wardens are intimidating.

Defending the investigation, Wilkinson said, “We have three officers who are saying one thing, we have two complainants who are saying something different, and I have absolutely no reason not to believe the officers involved.”

“I’m not saying that you didn’t think that they were going 65,” he added. “What I’m saying is that we don’t have any factual findings to support they were one way or another.

“I spent a lot of resources looking into this because we took it very seriously, and if there were facts to support that the officers did something wrong, we would hold them accountable,” Wilkinson said.

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