Just before 1 a.m. June 15, 2006, Troy Parker's 25-foot speedboat slammed into a barge moored on the Illinois River. As the weather warms, may this awful example serve as a warning to all Illinois boaters to act responsibly. Someone's life may depend on it.
Peoria County's top prosecutor does not believe he can prove in a court of law that a former Peoria police officer is criminally culpable in a fatal boating crash, though he is convinced of that in his own mind. Of the two eyewitnesses, one is dead and the other suffered severe head and other injuries and cannot remember. As a result, all charges against Troy Parker were dropped Monday, nearly two years after the terrible accident.
Nonetheless, in the court of public opinion, Parker's behavior has given citizens more than enough reason to doubt his judgment.
Just before 1 a.m. June 15, 2006, Parker's 25-foot speedboat slammed into a barge moored on the Illinois River. Only one of the three people on board — Parker — was conscious when emergency responders arrived. Another man, 43-year-old Damon Teverbaugh, died the following day. A woman, Tammy Warnke, survived but was hospitalized for months.
Parker, meanwhile, was arrested and indicted on multiple counts of reckless homicide and of aggravated operating of a watercraft under the influence. A test showed Parker's blood-alcohol level to be .157 percent, almost twice the legal limit for intoxication. His trial, however, was repeatedly delayed. This week prosecutors finally gave up.
Peoria County State's Attorney Kevin Lyons said it would be difficult to convince a jury of Parker's alleged role in the accident. Although it was his watercraft, although a witness told police he saw Parker piloting the boat as it left the marina (and confronted him about his obvious drinking) just before it crashed 10 minutes later, although a couple of civil suits against him are still pending, Lyons said neither the defense's nor prosecution's reconstruction experts could place Parker behind the wheel at impact. Parker made comments to investigators immediately afterward denying that he was in control of the boat.
"I have to hold my nose and let this one go," Lyons said.
Fair or not, many observers will look at this accident and conclude that a law enforcer has managed to skate by the law. Some will note that this is the second time Parker has avoided prosecution in a vehicle accident reportedly involving alcohol. In 2005 Parker's SUV was found abandoned in a ditch near Mossville. A sheriff's deputy tracked him down at the hospital and said he smelled of booze. Parker refused to say much about that wreck — in which Teverbaugh again was with him — or consent to a blood-alcohol test. He also has a previous DUI, plus multiple other traffic citations.
Who in their right mind would jump in any vehicle with this guy now?
Of course, as a citizen Parker has a right not to incriminate himself. But as a police officer — with the ability to carry a gun and arrest others on reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing — he must be held to a higher standard. It's indisputable that he exercised exceedingly reckless judgment that night, if not an outright disregard for the law he was employed at the time to enforce. Our legal system may not have a case it can make against him, but at the very least Parker shares a moral responsibility for what transpired on his boat that led to that evening's fatal outcome.
Last Friday Parker quit Peoria's police force — after being fired, then reinstated by an arbitrator — which should be a relief to local citizens. With his resignation retroactive to Feb. 27, 2007, he is not entitled to back pay or benefits, according to the police chief.
Hopefully he'll use this time to take stock of his life and seriously consider another career path. Some would say — we would say — that he has forfeited public trust in his ability to serve as a public safety officer. As the weather warms, may Parker's awful example serve as a warning to all central Illinois boaters to act responsibly. Someone's life may depend on it.
Peoria Journal Star