Thursday, April 30, 2009

N.J. State Trooper Goes on Trial

CNN reports on the trial of a N.J. State Trooper accused of vehicular homicide.

This case involves New Jersey State Trooper Robert Higbee, who was on patrol the evening of September 27, 2006 in the Cape May area of the Jersey shore. As defendant Higbee went through an intersection in pursuit of a speeder at about 10:00 p.m., two sisters were entering the intersection after buying milk for their grandmother. The result was a disastrous collision that killed 17-year-old Jacqueline Becker and 19-year-old Christina Becker.

The Philadelphia Enquirer describes it like this:

New Jersey State Trooper Robert Higbee was barrelling through the Marmora section of Upper Township about 10 p.m. on Sept. 27, 2006, when he slammed his police cruiser into a minivan carrying two sisters who had borrowed it from their grandmother to pick up milk at the local convenience store.

Those two opening paragraphs tell the whole story. Was he "barrelling through" the intersection irresponsibly or was he "on patrol" and "in pursuit" of a speeder? This is exactly what the jury will have to determine.

An eyewitness said he was driving extremely fast, without emergency lights or sirens. The impact propelled both women through the passenger-side window, they were pronounced dead at the scene.

Most of the comments to the CNN story, which is much less antagonistic towards Higbee than the Enquirer article, are along the lines of, "these abusing cops must be stopped." I generally agree that policemen should be held to a higher standard than regular citizens, anyone in a position of authority should, but in this case I wonder if the vengeance motive has taken over. Much like the cries for "justice" that accompany capital punishment cases, based on the heartbreaking emotion of the loss of innocent life, I wonder if Trooper Higbee is being dragged over the coals for what was nothing more than an accident, a tragic one, but an accident nonetheless, committed during the commission of his duty.

These are just thoughts off the top of my head. I stand ready to take them back if during the trial it's revealed that he's demonstrated disregard for safety in the past, if he's been known to abuse his power in other ways, and certainly if he's had a history of alcohol and drug abuse on the job. But barring those things, I say he may have been involved in a terrible accident, that resulted in the unintentional death of two young women, and I don't think people should be punished for having accidents.

What's your opinion? What do you think about State Trooper Higbee, guilty or not guilty?

Please leave a comment.


  1. More importantly, do you think the sisters share responsibility with them because they were in violation of New Jersey's mandatory seat belt law.

  2. Toughie. I think it's extremely questionable that he was engaging in high-speed pursuit in a populated area among other motorists over a speeding ticket. If this was his call, then vehicular homicide is absolutely an appropriate charge, but this could actually be a failure of the department's pursuit policies.

    Failing to put on his flashers was a huge mistake, one that I could easily see reaching the level of criminally negligent homicide. It was a mistake, yes, but that's what involuntary manslaughter means. It's a mistake that has serious consequences.

    As far as the paper's reaction, I think you're right on the money: it depends entirely on the cop himself, and on his department. All I can say in that regard is that South Jersey cops have... quite a reputation in this state, and that when my mother briefly worked for the courts system in South Jersey (though nowhere near as south as Cape May) she painted a much more sympathetic picture of them.

    If the cop's an abusive dick, I'm glad they're sticking it to him and wish it hadn't taken two dead women to get us to this point. If he's a good man who made a big mistake, he has my sympathy; I can't imagine how awful he must feel right now.

  3. MikeB,

    Isn't this a case of shared responsibility?

    If the girls hadn't been owners/operators of a car, there would not have been an accident?

    Doesn't that fit your firearm availability theory? Let's blame the victims.

  4. Weer'd and Bob, I guess you guys are tired of contributing seriously to the discussion. Those two inane comments are a waste of everybody's time.

    If your point is that I'm mistaken on the other threads about shared responsibility, then go over there and say it. Please refrain from this feckless attempt at irony to make your point.

  5. Just because you don't like their analogies doesn't make them any less relevant Mike.