Judge spikes lawsuit, dismisses allegations of improper police interference in Sheffield woman’s deathMore Info
Sheffield — Edwin J. “Ted” Dobson’s life changed forever when on a late February evening in 2012, an unlicensed Connecticut motorist who had made a habit of driving drunk swerved his wife’s monster pick-up truck into an oncoming lane on Route 7 in Sheffield and took the life of Dobson’s beautiful daughter Moira Banks-Dobson, then 24, who was driving home.
Now his grief and rage against the driver, Fred Weller, has turned to anger against the state of Connecticut, where last month Waterbury Superior Court Judge Terence Zemetis dismissed Dobson’s civil case alleging that Weller would have been in jail if not for the interference of a small-town police department in nearby Monroe that was using Weller, now 40, as a drug informant.
In a seven-page summary judgment, Zemetis said Dobson’s claims of misconduct have “no issue of genuine material fact.” As defined by the court, a material fact is “a fact that will make a difference in the result of a case.”
Banks-Dobson’s Toyota Corolla was one of three cars Weller’s Ford pick-up truck hit in that same incident. He also collided with a Dodge Neon, causing its driver, Russell Brown of Great Barrington, to become entrapped in his vehicle after suffering a compound leg fracture.
According to an exhaustive and award-winning investigation into Weller’s past by the Waterbury Republican-American newspaper, Weller’s “6,000-pound truck rode up and over the smaller car, crushing the roof and driver. Banks-Dobson died on impact.”
But in an Edge interview, Dobson remains baffled at Zemetis’ ruling that his case lacked substantial facts. He said facts typically emerge during a trial.
“What are they afraid of?” Dobson asked rhetorically. “This isn’t a guy who fell through the cracks. Weller had a long criminal history. When he came to Connecticut, he did not even have a driver’s license.”
Many of the facts do not seem to be in dispute. According to Zemetis’ own ruling, Weller “was a habitual criminal offender” who had been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs on multiple occasions previous to the night of Banks-Dobson’s death on Feb. 28, 2012.
After a 2005 conviction, Weller was serving “a lengthy probation” and being supervised by the state’s probation department after serving 18 months of a five-year sentence in Connecticut.
While on parole, Weller “repeatedly violated” its terms, according to the ruling, most notably by operating a motor vehicle without a license and under the influence, and entering a woman’s home uninvited after a crash on Feb. 12, 2010, in Fishkill, N.Y.
Within days of the crash, Weller volunteered to become a confidential informant for the Monroe Police department and participated in two drug buys, though despite Weller’s requests, Monroe officers refused to “assist him” with the criminal charges he faced in Fishkill, the ruling says.
Dobson asserts that Monroe police, as a “quid pro quo” for Weller’s work as an informant, “interfered” with the probation department, requested “preferential treatment” and “secured Weller’s release despite multiple violations of the terms and conditions of his probation.”
Both the Monroe Police Department and the state probation department (known as Adult Probation) deny Dobson’s allegations. Indeed Zemetis found that the probation department had fulfilled its duties by preparing arrest warrants for Weller whenever he violated the terms of his probation.
“He was out on parole when Fishkill happened,” Dobson said, his eyes misting up. “When the police served him with court papers … he should have gone back to jail and chances are we wouldn’t be sitting here today.”
“If Monroe Police Department did negligently attempt to wrongfully influence [Adult Probation] favoring [Weller] or attempted to wrongfully interfere with [Adult Probation] actions, that alleged conduct failed,” the ruling said.
Dobson said he plans to appeal the ruling. He had hired a law firm in Boston, Boyle-Shaughnessy Law, to do the bulk of the legal work. Though the firm has an office in Connecticut, Dobson said he thinks he erred in not hiring a firm from the state to handle the complex litigation. So a Connecticut firm will likely handle the appeal, though Dobson was not yet sure which one.
Great Barrington lawyer Ira Kaplan, one of the Dobson’s other attorneys, is a longtime friend of Dobson’s family. He confirmed to the Edge that a notice of appeal has been filed with the Connecticut Appellate Court.
“The discovery process was basically complete,” Kaplan said in an interview. “Why not let us go to trial and see what facts come out at trial? … There are some credibility issues going on here.”
If the case had gone to trial, Dobson said he would have sought damages in the “tens of millions of dollars,” an amount that would have dealt quite a blow to the town of Monroe (population 20,000).
“Part of it I would have given to the guy who got crippled,” Dobson said, referring to Brown, the Great Barrington motorist who nearly died and had $400,000 in medical bills that Weller’s insurance didn’t cover.
Dobson, a well-known Sheffield farmer and former selectman, and his ex-wife, Ann Banks, a music teacher at Indian Mountain School in Lakeville, Conn., still feel the trauma of that awful night. They were, however, the beneficiaries of an outpouring of support from the community.
A memorial service for Banks-Dobson, a graduate of Hotchkiss School and Yale University, was held in a packed Dewey Hall. Another memorial service was held a few days later at the Stagecoach Inn “on what would have been Banks-Dobson’s 25th birthday. Tangled up in Blue, the group she sang with at Yale, sang in her memory,” wrote Brigitte Ruthman, the Republican American reporter (and Berkshire County resident) who covered the story bravely and tirelessly.
“She was such an exquisite student at Hotchkiss. One teacher told me that she was the best student he’d had in 30 years,” Dobson recalled. “That’s what made her rare. She could lift up the class.”
Banks-Dobson attended both Hotchkiss and Yale on full scholarships. At the time of her death, she was tutoring needy students in Pittsfield, had developed a recent interest in bee-keeping and at the time of the crash was returning from a shopping trip to the Berkshire Co-op Market.
“She spent nine years of her life in Connecticut,” Dobson said. “Her experience in Connecticut was thick. She spent a third of her life there. I think they owe her more than she received.”
In 2013, Weller was sentenced by Judge John A. Agostini in Berkshire Superior Court in Pittsfield to 18 years in jail from charges stemming from the Sheffield crash. According to testimony, Weller atttempted to flee the crash scene and threatened to kill a bystander who tried to prevent him from running away.