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The family of an elderly Cloverdale woman who died after she was struck in a downtown parking lot by retired Police Chief Rob Dailey is raising questions about how local police handled their investigation of the crash, given Dailey's former post as department head.

Though retired 10 years before the Jan. 31 accident that resulted in the death of Margaret Joyce Ross, 87, Dailey's 33-year connection to the department provoked immediate concerns about investigators' neutrality in the case, said personal injury attorney Barbara Bozman-Moss, who is representing Ross' family.

Still-unanswered questions also suggest the accident did not receive sufficient scrutiny, given the gravity of Ross' injuries, said Bozman-Moss, who is preparing to file a wrongful death suit against Dailey on the Rosses' behalf.

"You can't leave any stone unturned," Bozman-Moss said, "and it feels like there's a stone unturned."

On the morning of Jan. 31, Ross and her daughter, Trisha Ross, 51, had parked at the downtown Exchange Bank and were walking across the parking lot to the ATM when Dailey turned in from South Cloverdale Boulevard.

His Chevrolet Silverado was traveling 2 or 3 mph when he struck both women, knocking them over and causing both to suffer head injuries, a police report on the accident says.

Trisha Ross told police the pickup driver "was looking down and did not see them until the collision occurred," according to the report.

Dailey told the investigating officer his attention was drawn by a vehicle parked to his right when "he heard a thump and applied his brake," then backed up and discovered he had hit the women, the report states.

Trisha Ross, who is still recovering from a concussion, said both women "flew up and landed on our heads." Her mother "was knocked out cold."

Margaret Ross died 12 days later after suffering a stroke, Bozman-Moss said. The police report says a doctor informed authorities that her death "was directly related to the injuries received in this accident."

The accident report clearly places the blame on Dailey's inattention.

But Bozman-Moss said the family contacted her because they were concerned the case had not been aired as fully as a fatal vehicle crash normally would be because of what they perceived to be close connections between Dailey and the emergency personnel involved in reviewing it.

She said the women — one with a walker — were halfway across the one-way parking lot, "in plain sight," yet there appeared to have been little scrutiny into why Dailey didn't see them before it was too late.

Checked boxes on the police report say neither alcohol nor cellphone use were factors in the 11:23 a.m. accident. Yet there is no indication of field sobriety tests, blood draws, cellphone inspection or anything else to suggest police did anything but accept whatever Dailey told them, Bozman-Moss said.

Cloverdale Police Chief Mark Tuma, who knows Dailey only as a fellow Rotary Club member, said that to his knowledge, Dailey's sobriety was not in question.

"There was no indication of alcohol," Tuma said.

Tuma said his department would not normally test the sobriety of a driver who hit a pedestrian at a slow speed if the driver stayed at the scene, was coherent and the accident did not appear to be fatal.

"Other than the fact that the lady passed away, which is a tragedy, don't get me wrong, it was hard to believe she even passed away," Tuma said. "It was that minor of an accident. He wasn't going more than a mile an hour, 2 miles an hour when he tapped her."

Tuma said he was not certain whether investigators had requested cellphone records or whether Dailey even owned a cellphone.

Bozman-Moss, the personal injury attorney, said she was not aware whether police had made a request of Exchange Bank to preserve any footage that might have been captured by an ATM surveillance camera.

Sally Traughber, marketing services manager at Exchange Bank, said the bank did not do any independent review of the accident in its parking lot, saying it was left "in the very capable hands of the Cloverdale Police Department to do."

Traughber said she later received a request from the Rosses' attorney to preserve surveillance tape from the ATM and did so. But Traughber, who has viewed the footage, said it shows neither the moment of impact nor Dailey as he was driving the truck into the lot.

Bozman-Moss said there's also been no explanation of what exactly distracted Dailey, and said the report refers to him by his first name in a manner suggesting a familiarity that makes her uncomfortable.

"That doesn't seem like it is an independent, neutral kind of evaluation," Bozman-Moss said. "We're not saying anything was clearly, wrongfully done. We're just saying there's a concern that, How do you tell when it's done internally like this?"

A note in the report describing the victim's injuries as "mild to moderate" also implies a level of interpretation that underscores the importance of an objective eye, though Cloverdale Fire Battalion Chief Rick Blackmon, who was at the scene, said no one anticipated the life-threatening nature of the older woman's wounds.

Tuma said he gave no consideration to bringing in an outside agency because of Dailey's firmly established civilian status.

He said neither the investigating officer, Cory Oliver, nor his supervising sergeant, Stephen Cramer, had worked for Dailey during his 16-year tenure as chief.

"You're dealing with a guy who's been retired for 10 years," Tuma said. "No one even knows him anymore except a few old timers."

Tuma also said he has "full confidence in my officers to do a fair and impartial investigation."

Dailey "is not a police officer. He's a former police officer," Tuma said. "If it was a member of my department, it might be a different thing. But he's no longer affiliated with the police department."

Local law enforcement agencies have a shared, countywide protocol under which outside agencies are called to investigate "critical incidents" involving the deaths of suspects during police pursuits or investigations, or who are otherwise in custody. But there is no cut-and-dried policy for managing investigations for vehicle crashes involving officers, let alone retired ones, several local police officials said.

Santa Rosa Police Chief Tom Shwedhelm said it's not uncommon for him to ask Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas to conduct a courtesy investigation for his department, or vice versa if there's any concern about the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Shwedhelm pointed, for example, to a 2004 case in which the CHP was asked to take over the investigation of a Sonoma Avenue crash in which two teens were killed, including the son of a Santa Rosa police officer.

But it's always "case by case," Shwedhelm said. "If we believe it would be in the best interest of all parties involved, we would make that request."

Sebastopol Police Chief Jeff Weaver said he would most likely ask the CHP to participate where an on-duty officer was concerned, or where there was a death involving an off-duty officer.

But "in the absence of a clear-cut protocol, clear-cut policy, clear-cut practice, it would be up to the discretion of whoever is the highest ranking officer working at that time — which in the case of a small department could be an officer," Weaver said.

For his part, Dailey, 65, said he deliberately steered clear of police in the aftermath of the accident to avoid any sense he might be trying to exert influence.

He said the days since the incident have been extremely difficult and painful, calling the accident "not something I want anyone to have happen."

But Dailey said he had been advised not to talk about the case and had reluctantly agreed.

"You know, he was devastated," said friend and personal attorney Jim DeMartini. "I've known the guy for 30 years. He's my good friend."

Another attorney, who is handling the case on behalf of Dailey's insurance company, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Staff Writer Cathy Bussewitz contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.

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