On September 2, 2013, Sorrento Police Officer James Lavone Bell was involved in a traffic accident on Airline Hwy. in which he was traveling at a high rate of speed while engaged in pursuit of a speeding vehicle. According to the Acadian Ambulance Monitoring System employed by Sorrento PD in its patrol units, Bell was proceeding at 100 mph when the accident occurred.
He told the investigating officer that, during the pursuit, Bell observed another vehicle in the left lane of travel so he switched to the right lane. But the second vehicle also switched lanes, impeding his pursuit. As Bell attempted to return to the left lane the second vehicle did so as well. At this point he claims to have applied his brakes, resulting in the loss of control of his police vehicle and collision with the second vehicle. Bell had activated the emergency lights and siren of his unit.
The driver of the second vehicle claims that she had already changed to the right lane to allow Officer Bell’s unit to pass on the left and never attempted to return to the left lane of travel. Two witnesses offered their versions of the events which seem to support Officer Bell’s claims, but he was deemed at fault by the investigating officer anyway.
The accident report was produced by Louisiana State Police and concluded that Officer Bell was at fault because “Due to driver 1 (Bell) activating his emergency lights and siren, driver 1 should have proceeded in the left lane and not attempted to pass vehicle 2 on the right.”
The Creole has learned that “driver 2” has engaged the services of an attorney who is actively investigating the matter.
At issue is the claim that Officer Bell habitually travelled at excessive speeds, thereby jeopardizing the safety of public motorists. The Creole has obtained Sorrento PD’s “Speed Violation Report” which was maintained for the unit operated by Officer Bell from July 1-September 3, 2013. In that 64 day period there were 737 instances in which Officer Bell’s unit was flagged for travelling at speeds in excess of 75 mph. The location of each instance is also identified by the Monitoring System.
If one were to consider only instances in which the speed was 90 mph or greater on the Interstate system and 80 mph or greater on other roadways, the total is reduced to 311 instances. Of those instances only 97 occurred within the town limits of Sorrento where Officer Bell travelled in excess of 100 mph on 13 occasions. He was clocked in excess of 90 mph 47 other times.
“Officer Bell was reprimanded when the Speeding Violations Report was brought to my attention,” said Sorrento Police Chief Earl Theriot “and the issue has not come up again. I won’t comment on potential litigation except to point out that Officer Bell made over 300 violation stops during the relevant time period in which offending motorists were ticketed.”
His hasty travels, though, were not confined within the borders of Sorrento. Officer Bell was flagged 81 times travelling faster than 90 mph in Gonzales, Prairieville and Geismar. Each of these instances occurred on the Interstate system. He was flagged doing over 100 mph in St. Amant on four occasion. He also journeyed to Ascension’s west bank where he was flagged twice in Donaldsonville, once doing better than 90 mph.
Nor was his speeding limited to Ascension Parish. He was flagged on 13 occasions in the St. James Parish localities of St. James, Convent and Gramercy. Officer Bell also visited Livingston Parish where he was flagged in the Town of Livingston and in Walker.
In Baton Rouge, where Officer Bell resides, he was flagged for going over 80 mph 101 times, excluding those instances which occurred on the Interstate system. He was flagged by the monitoring system over 120 times on Burbank Dr. in Baton Rouge where the posted speed limit is 50 mph. This number includes those occasions where the rate of speed exceeded 75 mph, but there were numerous instances in which the speed registered at over 90 mph. There were also instances in Scotlandville and Zachary.
Officers are allowed to take their units home if they reside within a 35 mi. radius from Sorrento.