Excerpts: Conflict in testimony


Published: Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 10:03 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 10:03 a.m.

One of the most dramatic elements of the report is contained in a section called “Conflict in Testimony.”

In it, FHP Sgt. Bruce Simmons expressed a concern to FHP Lt. John Gourley about reopening the highway based on a fear that environmental conditions would cause limited visibility.

At 2:55 a.m., Simmons and Gourley talked on the radio about those concerns. At 3:25 a.m., the two met on the highway and Simmons once again expressed his worries.

Gourley told investigators that despite Simmons' concerns, he proceeded to order the highway reopened because visibility seemed to be improving and what he perceived to be an ability to monitor the roadway and move troopers around as needed.

After the crashes, around 4:13 a.m., Simmons made several comments to himself and others about this disagreement that were recorded on his car's video.

Here are excerpts:

Simmons to Alachua County Deputy Jake Skelly:

“You can't get to it. No, you don't want to get to it. They are having explosions. We've got a trooper down there and now he's having problems breathing. I tried to tell them to leave that “Sum...buck'' closed and they wouldn't listen to me. I said it's going to roll in again. Leave it closed. Oh lord, no we don't want to mess up. Well, I said, I told while I was grabbing some breakfast, I told the trooper I said 30-45 minutes, you watch. Pissed me off.

At 4:32 a.m., Simmons is recorded speaking to himself: “This would not have happened.''

At 4:33, he spoke to an Alachua County deputy: “They wouldn't freaking listen earlier. That's what I told my lieutenant. That's what I told my lieutenant. I said that it will roll in faster than you can shut it down. This crap wouldn't have happened if he'd have listened.''

Simmons at 4:37 a.m. to himself: “You're covering your ass.''

During his interview with FDLE, FHP Trooper James Taylor said he felt that, had Gourley not been there, Simmons would have kept the interstate closed.

The report then details conflicting testimony about Simmons' comments in the video:

Simmons met with District Commander Capt. Coby Fincher on Jan. 31 regarding the comments on Simmons' in-car video recording. Near the end, Gourley joined them.

Fincher later wrote a report to Troop Commander Maj. Gene Spaulding. In the report, and a sworn interview, Fincher said Simmons told him his comments on the video were untrue regarding his disagreement with Gourley's decision to reopen the interstate.

However, in a sworn interview, Simmons said the meeting's only purpose was to inform Fincher of the recorded comments. Simmons said his comments on the video were accurate and appropriate and that he did not recant his statements to Fincher. He reviewed Fincher's briefing report and said the captain's recollection of their meeting was inaccurate and the facts stated in the briefing report were not true.

- Greg Hamilton

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