District attorney holds press conference to explain reason for not prosecuting in Port Clyde fatal crash

From left, vehicle operator Cheryl Torgerson, Knox County Sheriff's Sgt. John Palmer and Lt. Kirk Guerette look over the car that Torgerson was driving after she allegedly lost control, struck several cars and a family in this August 2013 file photo.
Ron Hawkes Photography
From left, vehicle operator Cheryl Torgerson, Knox County Sheriff's Sgt. John Palmer and Lt. Kirk Guerette look over the car that Torgerson was driving after she allegedly lost control, struck several cars and a family in this August 2013 file photo.
Posted Feb. 07, 2014, at 3:44 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 08, 2014, at 6:08 a.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Even if the driver in the fatal Port Clyde wharf accident last August had been speeding and driving erratically on U.S. Route 1 earlier that day, it would not be enough evidence to levy criminal charges against her, according to the Knox County District Attorney.

Geoffrey Rushlau held an informal press conference Friday afternoon outside his office at the Knox County Courthouse to answer questions about his decision not to prosecute 61-year-old Cheryl Lynn Torgerson. She was behind the wheel of a 2007 Nissan Infiniti that drove into several vehicles and a building in the Port Clyde ferry terminal area on Aug. 11, striking and killing 9-year-old Dylan Gold of Cohasset, Mass. The crashes also caused serious injuries to Dylan’s mother, Alison Gold, and Jonathan Coggeshall of Port Clyde, as well as causing lesser injuries to Dylan’s 6-year-old brother, Wyatt.

“I guess you could call it a cold case, in a way,” Rushlau said. “Until there’s some reason to look at it again, it won’t be looked at again.”

On Thursday, he released a document giving details from the police investigation and explaining why he concluded there’s insufficient evidence to prosecute her for any criminal offense resulting from her conduct in Port Clyde that summer day.

The New York City woman drove nine hours north from her home on Aug. 11 in her 2007 Infiniti sedan in order to take the 3 p.m. ferry to Monhegan Island. Police received a 911 call complaining about a similar car speeding and driving recklessly in Waldoboro less than an hour before her Infiniti plowed into people and buildings on the wharf.

Rushlau declined to comment Friday on whether the speeding driver was Torgerson, but said that bad driving in Waldoboro had “nothing to do with the decision to prosecute in Port Clyde,” because before the wharf incident, her vehicle had come to a complete halt while she was waiting in the ferry line. He said he did not know how long she had owned the Infiniti, but that she had gotten it serviced the month before and did not act like she was unfamiliar with the car.

According to data recorded from the airbag module in her car, Torgerson had feet on both the brakes and the throttle pedal in the car, which appeared to be an automatic, Rushlau said. Four seconds before the airbag deployed, the brakes were released, but the throttle pedal was 100 percent depressed. At that time, the Infiniti started moving at 4 to 5 miles per hour but quickly increased speed to 31 miles per hour when the airbag was deployed, probably when the car struck the terminal building. The sedan then continued down the wharf, striking Coggeshall, the Golds and a series of parked vehicles.

Dylan died of his injuries a short time later.

Rushlau said Friday that the lack of criminal charges against Torgerson should not be a sign that a civil case against her would be unsuccessful, if one is brought.

“Because it’s a criminal case, we do have to prove criminal negligence rather than fault,” he said. “You have to look at the whole picture. You have to look at it in a totally objective way.”

One thing he learned while investigating the case is that different car manufacturers have different access to their airbag data, and that Maine police had to get one of the few Nissan technicians available in the country to go to the car, when it was impounded, and take the data.

He said that the vehicular homicide case is as “widely publicized” as any he’s heard of or investigated.

“It’s a major event,” Rushlau said. “It’s been horrible for [the victims]. We just hope they’ll be able to rebuild their lives.”

 

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