Published July 10, 2012 in the Rutland Herald
Fire chief accused of damaging SUV while on duty
BENNINGTON — The chief of the Bennington Rural Fire Department was arraigned on Monday on two misdemeanor charges after police said he threw a flashlight at a car driving by a fire scene which caused almost $1,000 in damage.
Joseph T. Hayes, 43, of North Bennington, pleaded innocent to misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and unlawful mischief in Bennington criminal court on Monday. He was released without bail.
William T. Wright, who represented Hayes in court, said there were several witnesses to the events that police described in an affidavit.
“It’s our belief that when their information is disclosed, it will put a very different light on what happened. A jury would have a very tough time convicting Chief Hayes. He was just doing his job as the fire chief,” Wright said.
In the affidavit, Officer Andy Hunt of the Bennington Police Department said he responded to a call from Hayes on June 3 around 10:20 p.m. Hunt said Hayes reported that someone tried to run him down while he was handling a situation involving arcing power lines in a tree on North Bennington Road.
According to Hunt, a dispatcher said Hunt had said he had thrown a flashlight at the car and it was still at the scene.
The driver, Frederick Grant, also called the dispatcher’s office and said he hadn’t seen Hayes because Hayes was wearing dark clothing and not wearing any reflective gear.
Hunt said when he arrived, Hayes admitted he hadn’t been wearing reflective gear at the time but said he believed Grant was driving “too fast” through the fire scene. Hayes said he shone his flashlight at the driver and then, when it didn’t stop, threw his flashlight at the front of the car, the affidavit said.
Hunt said Hayes also admitted to using “a few choice words when speaking to the driver.”
Grant told Hunt that he had been driving slowly through the scene, in part because there were three or four cars in front of his that were driving 15 to 20 mph due to the firefighters being on or near the road.
According to Grant, he heard something strike his car, which caused him to stop, and Hayes then approached him and called him an “(expletive) idiot” several times.
Grant told Hayes there was a truck on the side of the road, facing oncoming traffic, with its high beams on and the light bar flashing. Grant said the lights made it difficult to see and he didn’t notice whether a flashlight had been trained on his vehicle.
Hunt said Grant’s 2007 Saturn Outlook sport utility vehicle had a cracked grill and bumper cover, apparently from the thrown flashlight, which Hunt said was “in many pieces and strewn out for approximately 10 feet.”
On June 3, Grant said he didn’t want to give a statement or receive compensation from the fire department but Hunt said he heard from Grant on June 8. Grant said he changed his mind because the damage to his vehicle, which a Shaftsbury auto repair shop estimate at just about $1,000, was more than he expected.
In 2007, Hayes was charged with embezzling from his department. He was referred to the diversion program for the felony charge which allowed him to resolve the charge without having a criminal record.
Wright said on Monday he did not believe his client had any intention of stepping down while the current charges are pending.