No Charges To Be Filed Against Chatham Officer In New Year’s Day Death

PHOTO COURTESY OF ST. LAWRENCE UNIVERSITY Garrett Gagne

PHOTO COURTESY OF ST. LAWRENCE UNIVERSITY
Garrett Gagne

BARNSTABLE – The Cape and Islands District Attorney’s Office has determined there will be no charges against Chatham Police Officer Christopher Vardakis who ran over a 22-year-old college student lying in the roadway early in the morning on New Year’s Day.

Vardakis was driving a Chatham police vehicle south on Crowell Road when he ran over Garrett Gagne, a college student who was celebrating New Year’s Eve in Chatham with friends.

The incident happened at 4:07 a.m., according to police.

Vardakis stopped after running over Gagne and called for an ambulance. Gagne was pronounced dead at Cape Cod Hospital less than an hour later.

Toxicology reports found Gagne was impaired by alcohol and had illicit drugs in his system, according to the district attorney’s office.

“It was understood to a large degree in a very short period of time, a couple of months after the accident reconstruction completed their work, that this certainly appeared to be an accident that was not the fault of the officer,” O’Keefe said.

But, O’Keefe said, his office did not want to make any conclusions without seeing the toxicology reports.

It was waiting for the toxicology reports that resulted in the investigation taking nine months, O’Keefe said.

“Toxicology takes an extremely long time to get back,” he said.

O’Keefe said he did not want to specify Gagne’s drug alcohol level or the drugs in his system out of deference to the young man’s family.

O’Keefe said Vardakis was responding to a restaurant alarm but he declined the name the restaurant.

Chatham Police Chief Mark Pawlina said Vardakis was responding to a business alarm that turned out to be a false alarm. But he said, the business in question had had a break-in in the past.

Vardakis was working his regular shift on the midnight shift, Pawlina said. “There was no indication of fatigue or lack of attention observed,” he said of the officer.

O’Keefe said a significant finding from the investigation was, in addition to Gagne lying in a dark section of road, his body was parallel to the center line.

“So he presented even less of a profile, if you will, to any oncoming vehicle. It’s just a further indicator of the lack of fault of the operator of the vehicular,” O’Keefe said.

According to the district attorney’s office, there were no defects found in the police vehicle. “Collision avoidance analysis would support a conclusion that the collision was unavoidable,” according to the district attorney’s report.

As to the speed that Officer Vardakis was traveling, O’Keefe would only say, “It’s difficult to determine with absolute certainty. He was going at a rate of speed commensurate with the road conditions and the nature of the call he was on,” O’Keefe said.

Chatham Police Chief Mark Pawlina said Vardakis, who had been with the department for a year and a half at the time of the crash, was put on administrative leave for several days after the crash. He was then put on desk duty for several weeks before being returned to active duty.

“After we assessed the information and how the officer was doing, he was put back on patrol,” Pawlina said.

Pawlina said after the accident, his department reviewed policies and procedures for responding to calls for service and operation of vehicles on patrol but did not find it necessary to change any of the policies.

“We did not find any negligence,” he said.

O’Keefe said the incident is a tragedy. “If there’s a lesson to the learned here, it’s one of you have to be careful about the substances that you ingest in your body and you have to look out for your friends. It’s a terrible tragedy.”

O’Keefe said the investigation determined that Gagne left a Chatham bar and went to at least one other location before ending up in the roadway, so it would be difficult to know when in the course of the evening he became incapacitated.

He said it is up to the estate and the family of the deceased as to whether to pursue a civil wrongful death case.

On the matter of the district attorney’s office investigating the actions of local police officers, O’Keefe said, “It’s our job to do that and we do it all the time.”

He said state police conducted the investigation into the accident.

He said in a case where a person in the district attorney’s office had a personal relationship with a particular police officer, there would be consideration of whether to refer it to another district attorney’s office because of a conflict of interest. But that was not the case in this instance, he said.

Pawlina said, “The whole incident is just a very tragic set of circumstances. Our hearts go out to the whole Gagne family. They lost a son. It’s got to be so difficult for them.”

Pawlina said that in addition to being a tragedy for Gagne and his family and friends, Officer Vardakis was also affected by what Pawlina called “a life-changing tragedy.”

“This was a very tragic incident for an officer to go through and he was extremely shaken up and it impacted him very deeply,” Pawlina said. “In a sense, everybody was victimized by this terrible event.”

By LAURA M. RECKFORD, CapeCod.com News Editor

Comments

  1. Of course not. Just a bump in the road for the cop.

  2. Robert Rehbocks says:

    Too bad rob wasn’t laying in the road before him

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