Motorist pursues redress -- in vain

Resident decries rejection of claim after one-car wreck

March 23, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Craig Hayward acknowledges he panicked. The sight of headlights he perceived as coming at him late on a December night was enough to make him jam on the brakes, sending his 1991 Honda Civic skidding into a curb.

The source of the shining was an unmarked Anne Arundel County police car idling in a traffic circle on Housely Road in Annapolis, facing traffic. Hayward figured he had a good case. The county's insurance office would pay for $150 in repairs to his Honda, and that would be that. He was not hurt.

But the county did not see things his way, denying his claim before he had a chance to get an estimate and put his version of events in writing.

His frustration has bubbled over in letters to county officials, and he's working on a missive headed for the top: to County Executive Janet S. Owens.

"It's all about principle," said Hayward, a former radio disc jockey.

The accident occurred about 11: 30 p.m. Dec. 12 as Hayward headed to WRNR-FM for overnight on-air duties at the rock 'n' roll station.

A short time earlier, police had received a report of a holdup at a nearby fast-food restaurant. When Hayward entered the traffic circle, Officer Robert Creech was sitting in his stationary car, on the lookout for possible suspects.

Hayward says the car seemed to be moving toward him and, seconds later, he hit the curb and his Honda had a dented wheel and gashed sidewall.

When Hayward's wife, Margaret, called the county's insurance office, she was told to put the claim in writing, with an estimate attached.

But when the Haywards returned home to Annapolis from a short trip days later, before the claim had been filed, they found an answer waiting for them.

`I must deny your claim'

"Regretfully, I must deny your claim since the primary cause of this accident was your failure to pay full time and attention and striking the curb," wrote county claims adjuster John Eldridge Jr.

Hayward was baffled. He did not know how his claim could be denied before it had been filed and how the county could blame him for the accident. He wondered why Eldridge's terse, three-paragraph letter was written in a "nonsensical" manner.

Hayward fired off a letter to Eldridge's boss, Donna Goins, with references to "tyrannical" government.

"My piddling little non-claim is no longer the issue; government abuse has taken its place," he wrote. "I am furious that I first have my life put in jeopardy by Officer Creech's abject lack of judgment, then any attempt to redress the county is bamboozled by an illiterate."

He signed the letter, "Yours in perplexity."

Goins never responded, so Monday he mailed another letter, this time by registered mail. Goins referred a reporter's questions to Owens spokesman Andrew C. Carpenter, who portrayed Eldridge's quick denial as an example of a concerned government.

"It shows we take phone calls from citizens seriously and respond to them in an alacritous manner," Carpenter said.

Police, county agree

As for the denial, Carpenter said, "I guess risk management is saying the driver of the other car [Hayward] made a driving error."

County police agree with the insurance office.

Creech positioned his unmarked car in the circle hoping to intercept possible suspects in the reported armed robbery, said Officer Charles Ravenell, a police spokesman.

"There was ample room to pass the police vehicle sitting in the circle," Ravenell added. "He drove into the curb."

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