Cookeville, TN – The police officer who crashed his patrol car into an elderly couple’s car while driving nearly 30 mph over the speed limit will face no charges and will remain on the job, despite a history of dangerous driving accidents.
The surveillance footage is gruesome, and it shows James Cryer, 69, and his wife Rena, 78, exiting a parking lot and pulling out onto the road in their 2001 Chevy Blazer when a 2015 Dodge Charger races down the street and crashes into the left rear of their car. Mr. Cryer was ejected from the car and left lying in the middle of the street.
The speeding car, which clearly had “POLICE” emblazoned on its side, was an Algood City patrol car driven by Officer Christopher Ferguson, 32. An investigation from the Tennessee Highway Patrol placed the blame on both drivers—claiming that while Ferguson was exceeding the speed limit, Cryer also “failed to yield” to oncoming traffic.
However, Cryer claimed that because Ferguson was driving nearly 30 mph over the speed limit, he did not see the patrol car when he pulled out into the street until it was too late.
Even with an investigator claiming that “If the officer had been driving the posted speed limit…the collision would have been avoided,” District Attorney General Bryant Dunaway told WSMV News that he had no regrets about declining to charge the officer.
“Both of them did things they shouldn’t have done, and both of them violated the law,” Dunaway said. “They violated the rules of the road.”
While Ferguson was driving at least 26mph over the speed limit, which may be considered “reckless driving” in some states, Dunaway insisted that “his actions did not meet the definition of reckless driving, and both drivers only committed minor driving offenses that would have amounted to class B misdemeanors.”
In fact, as attorney Patrick Stegall noted, in the state of Tennessee, there is not a set speed that indicates that a driver is being “reckless,” and the charge is instead determined at the discretion of the police officer.
“The crime of reckless driving in Tennessee is found in the Tenn. Code Annotated 55-10-205. It is defined simply when ‘any person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.’ The law doesn’t give any specifics, so police have a lot of discretion in determining what exactly is reckless driving. For instance, the law doesn’t say how fast a motorist has to be driving in order for it to be reckless driving. Twenty-five mph over the speed limit would probably be enough, but a driver might just get a speeding ticket for that. It may depend on the weather, the road, surrounding traffic, even the police officer’s mood that day.”
In addition to the fact that Christopher Ferguson’s actions clearly caused the crash and his status as a police officer should be called into question, an investigation from WSMW revealed that this is not the first time Ferguson has caused a driving accident.
Ferguson was disciplined for his involvement in at least five car accidents, according to records from Cookeville Police Department. The scenarios that damaged his patrol car included driving recklessly on black ice, changing lanes improperly, hitting a stop sign and hitting a mailbox.
When Ferguson hit a semi-truck, the department recommended his resignation. He complied and went on to join the Algood Police Department in 2015.
Now, Ferguson is still on the job after his crash with Mr. and Mrs. Cryer, and because he received only a verbal reprimand from the department, there is a good chance that will he continue with the same behavior.
When the accident happened in May, James Cryer was ejected from the vehicle in the middle of the street, and Rena Cryer stayed in the passenger seat of the car as it rolled over on the side of the road. It is a miracle that they both survived.
“I thought, ‘Oh god, please, I don’t want to die right now, I got grandkids, I got to get back home to,’” Rena Cryer told WSMW, recalling her initial reaction to the crash.
Ultimately, Cryer said she believes something needs to happen to hold the officer accountable for his actions. “I want justice done. Whatever it has to be, I think something ought to be done,” she said.