State Police, Hebert discuss E. Main accident

An article on this morning quotes both State Police Captain James Swanberg and Portsmouth Police Chief Lance Hebert in a way which raises a troubling question about the accident on Tuesday. Here's the relevant passage:

Tuesday’s incident, at the bottom of Quaker Hill near Brooks Pharmacy, marked the third car-pedestrian accident in the last two years on the same mile-long stretch of East Main Road, where speed has long worried law-enforcement officials.

Swanberg said there was no indication that Mooney exceeded the “normal flow of traffic.”

But he and Portsmouth Police Chief Lance Hebert agreed that the “normal flow” is 10 to 15 mph above the posted limit of 25 mph.

“The flow is 35 to 40 miles an hour — except when I have a police officer there. Then, it’s 25,” Hebert said.
— Via Providence Journal

What would a reasonable person infer from the above?


In the original reports online in the EastBay paper, the time of the accident was 3:10pm. In the updated version of the story, the time has magically changed to "a little before 3pm". Mooney was on his way to work for the 3pm shift so apparently the 3:10 time had to go as it shows that Mooney was late for work which would support the fact that he was indeed, speeding.
Although I realize that it was extremely poor judgment on the part of the two girls to cross East Main Rd NOT in a crosswalk, the fact remains that if the driver of the car was traveling at the 25 mph limit, Samantha's injuries would likely have not been as serious. Witnesses have reported that Mr. Mooney was indeed "flying" up the hill. We all know teenagers don't always have the best judgment, but I certainly expect adult police officers to have better judgment than to speed in a heavily populated, well- traveled 25 mph zone where people have been struck before!
I read the 3:10 time in the paper, I heard the witnesses on the tv news. We cannot allow this man to get away with "speeding with the flow of traffic"!!!!

Hi, Hostess...
The investigation is ongoing, there are no reports that the police officer involved was cited, so there are no hard facts I'm aware of about speed at this point. Let's please be very careful about what we say, and recall the presumption of innocence. We're all very upset, but we need to remain calm and respect the process.

Eyewitness reports are notoriously inaccurate, and I took the initial time discrepancy to be simply a reporting error. That will be verifiable through radio logs and 911 tapes, and speed will be verifiable through accident reconstruction and impact kinematics.


... I am just concerned about the "ingredients" that go into the process being accurate! I am wary of police investigating police....even if they are not on the same force.

I travel at 25 mPH when travelling on East Main Road in the area of the accident. I receive many stares and gestures as people roar past me at 35-50 MPH. I know that it is an area that has a high probability of perdestian accidents.

We talk about putting in "traffic lights", crosswalks and other temporary measures to try to fix the problem. People don't corss at crosswalks, and they will not cross will not cross at the traffic lights either.

We need the State to move the East Main Road - Town Center concept to have some physical way to slow the traffic or it will be just a matter of time before we see another pedestrian accident. - Or, station an unmarked radar station there and have all the speeders pull into Clements or the Fire station to pays the fines. If that does not slow traffic, it will, at least, go a long way at helping our budget deficit.

There will be much gnashing of teeth if they construct the Town Center roundabout plan as motorists are forced to slow down throught that area - but they will get over it. It is a small price to pay to avoid human injury or loss of life.

Hi, ElCapitan...
I'm with you. People blow past me in that whole stretch of East Main, and it's not just Mass plates; there are enough people with transfer station stickers that ought to know better.

I like the short-term solution of a massive ticket blitz. A mid-range option that the DOT discussed for Turnpike Ave is a fixed, radar-powered sign which flashes to let drivers know they're speeding. Those are apparently very effective, according to the DOT presentation.

And yes, we need the roundabouts, and the sooner we can get there, the better. There's a workshop on the proposal coming up in June, and I hope we can accelerate the project.


While I certainly agree that there never should be a rush to judgment in any investigation, I do share Hostess' concern when it comes to police investigating police. The time change is a bit strange, but as you said, let's wait to hear the 911 tapes, etc. The one thing I would say, however, is that I have never heard of a police officer discuss speed at which a person is traveling at as "the normal flow of traffic." The next time I get a speeding ticket, I'll use that in my defense and see how it works out. Something tells me it will be to no avail...

If the officer in question was, in fact, found to be speeding then he should be cited and/or charged accordingly. Anything less would be another black eye on the face of the PPD. I don't think it was too long ago that the police officers who stole firearms, which were lined up to be destroyed, got off with a mere slap on the wrist. That was truly disgusting.

Hi, Rhody5...
I'm in agreement with you on that phrase. "Normal flow of traffic" was what got my attention, more because of what the State Police are clearly *not* saying. The investigator is reporting a preliminary finding on speed at the time of collision, but he is *not* saying that there was indication that speed was under posted limits. This is not conclusive, and perhaps he was just being cautious, but it sounded odd to my ear too.

I think that the Portsmouth Police Department have made exactly the right call in turning the investigation over to the State Police, and I have confidence that the investigation will be fair and thorough.


There will be time enough for inquisitions later.

For now, I'm keeping the girl and the family in my prayers. I don't know what else to do about this horrible accident and I can only pray that Samantha will come through this OK.

Here's the awkward part. We all want to focus on the recovery of Samantha, and it feels somehow cheap to use this incident as a way to get the town center project built by the RI DOT. But, we must. If this accident gives Portsmouth leverage to pressure the RI DOT to action, then we cannot waste the opportunity. The town center plan calls for a grassy center median divider, and other traffic calming elements, all of which might have prevented this accident.

The DOT has been very good about coming to the table and telling Portsmouth that they support the town center plan. But, it has taken years and years to get this far. We need to tell the DOT that the time is now. We don't need any more accident victims.

Please have every Portsmouth resident you know contact the RI DOT and tell them that we want the Porstsmouth Town Center project built immediately so there are no more accidents like this one. We've had many accidents, including fatalities, and now this accident. What are they waiting for?

You can email RI DOT at:

Their telephone number is: 401-222-2450

Snail mail (probably the most effective) address is:

Jerome F. Williams, Director
Rhode Island Department of Transportation
Two Capitol Hill
Providence, RI 02903

Hi, Harlan...
Agree completely -- I've pulled your suggestion up to the home page.

And I agree with your hierarchy: prayer, action, investigation. You are both wise and practical.


First I want to say that my thoughts, and prayers, go out to the young girl,and her family. What should be looked at,and most troubling(evidence) is the damage (as seen) to the car involved, I have been told by 2 different, (very familiar with accidents of this nature), individuals, that given the damage to this car, there is no way it could have been doing the speed limit, or "the flow". Just in viewing such damage to this car one can get a pretty good idea of what the speed had to be at the time of impact.

Wishing Samantha a speedy recovery.

Hi, Delilah...
Agree completely -- it's been very good to hear that the news about Samantha's recovery so far has been good, and I'm sure we all continue to keep her in our thoughts.

Also agree with your friends' assessments of the impact damage. There is a lot of literature online about impact kinematics, and while every particular accident is different (uphill angle, bumper height, etc.) the damage pattern is suggestive.


Any of the interim fixes for the personal injuries on East Main Road will be just band-aids on the hemmorhage. We already have crosswalk, but people don't cross at the crosswalks. Spending money on a "pedestrian crossing light" will not work because people will not be incovenienced by having to walk to where the light is. Interim fixes will only drain money that could be invested in a core problem fix - that is - a real way to slow the traffic on East Main Road. The notion that we cannot quicken the process in DOT is a bunch of bunk. If there is not, there shoud be ways to elevate the priority on DOT projects to fix problems that could save lives. If the State Assembly wasn't too busy spending our money on other menial and inconsequential things, they could have allocated money this year to fix the problem once and for all by funding the Town Center initiative fully and get it from concept to concrete. Please attend the Town Center Meeting tonight at the High School to show support.

Hi, ElCapitan...
Thanks much -- Agree completely. I've linked to your comment from a new post on the home page.