Officers frustrated at fatal hit-and-run investigation
Sandra Chapman/13 Investigates
Cambridge City - For the first time since a Greenfield police officer was killed in a hit and run accident, officers on both sides of the investigation are voicing frustrations about the case.
"It just totally baffles me. I just don't understand why anybody would make that decision, unless you were afraid of something," said Charles McCord, a neighbor of Sue Ann Vanderbeck in Cambridge City.
Vanderbeck gave a 60-page confession, describing the night she hit and killed Officer Will Phillips and then drove off. Yet Vanderbeck's story is still generating widespread suspicion and frustration.
"It's relatively, in my opinion, a slap on the wrist. It's okay to go run and you're not going to get anything," said Greenfield Police Major Derek Towle. "I heard one of her comments, she didn't think she hit him very hard. I don't care if you think you hit anything, you better stop. I mean, that's the responsibility of a driver. So it gets me very upset when I hear stuff like that."
"I understand everybody's frustrations. Even my own officers here, they're upset about it. They're upset about the fact that that's the only charge," said Henry County Sheriff Butch Baker.
The 61-year-old Vanderbeck, a former critical care nurse, says she has stopped to give assistance on an accident scene before. But after she struck Officer Phillips, she fell into a state of confusion, crying and screaming as she fled the scene.
"Who knows what could have happened if a nurse was on the scene to help and injured a person like that, like Will. I can't say they would live or not live, but by golly, you've got to at least try," Maj. Towle said.
Phillips and two other Greenfield police officers were riding on a late night endurance ride. A Knightstown patrol officer reported seeing the bikes lit up with lights and reflectors. Vanderbeck says they just appeared.
She told state police she "heard the impact as she was swerving, then noticed the damage to her windshield...she didn't think the accident was that bad."
However, investigators found the windshield on the passenger side of her vehicle was broken, the front bumper was cracked, the hood had small dents and there was hair and blood on the broken turn signal lens.
Vanderbeck told police that she and her husband, Rick Smith, left a Cambridge City home at the same time the night of the accident. But they didn't travel together. Smith reportedly drove alone on I-70.
Investigators questioned whether she had been driving under the influence. But McCord told Eyewitness News he's never known Vanderbeck to be a heavy drinker, or to drink at all.
A bartender at a local tavern said detectives were in town, asking questions.
"The owner asked me who worked," the bartender said.
"Went to that area, went to all the establishments that serve alcohol and also did a neighborhood search or canvass and turned up nothing," Sheriff Baker explained.
The sheriff says his officers are following all leads in the case and confirms he's heard the buzz around town, questioning whether Vanderbeck was really behind the wheel.
"I guess that's always a possibility. There's nothing to indicate that at this point and time. Nobody's come forward and said that somebody else was driving," he said.
Vanderbeck is facing a felony charge of leaving the scene of a fatality accident.
The two officers with Phillips that night are back on duty. Greenfield Police say they will continue night bike patrols, but will decide in the next week or so if any training changes will be made.