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Monday, January 2, 2017
Morgan County Sheriff's Office accounts for 95 percent of county's auto insurance claims By Keith Clines Staff Writer Dec 14, 2015
Blogger Comments: Thank You Sheriff Franklin for adding to the accidents. Now ask the Hall's how they feel.
The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office accounted for 95 percent of the more than $64,000 in claims paid last year by the county’s insurance carrier for automobile and property damage.
Meadowbrook Insurance Group increased the county’s annual premium nearly 23 percent — from $142,463 last year to $175,402 this year — after paying $64,247.70 in accident claims last year.
Ten of the 13 accidents in which a claim was paid involved Sheriff Ana Franklin’s office. Those 10 wrecks resulted in $61,117.30 in claims payments according to county records.
Franklin said nearly all of the wrecks involving deputies were either not their fault or happened while answering a call. Deputies receive defensive driving and skid training annually and have weekly safety meetings on each shift, she said.
“We do our best to ensure that our officers are taking care and prudence when they’re driving,” she said.
Although Meadowbrook increased the insurance premium, the payment is less than the $210,472 premium charged by Travelers, the previous carrier, two years ago, Morgan County Administrator Belinda Ealey said.
Franklin said she discusses each wreck involving her department with Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long after the incident.
Long said he understands the Sheriff’s Office is more likely to have more automobile wrecks than other county departments because of the business the sheriff is in and the number of miles deputies drive each day.
“We’re not proud of the wrecks by no means,” he said. “But they know they have to be more cautious. All we can do is ask them to do better. I’m confident she’s on top of it.”
Franklin said she doesn’t want her department to be blamed for driving up the county’s costs.
“We understand that we are in charge of county assets and we have a fiduciary responsibility to protect those assets,” Franklin said. “We don’t want the county to be out any money because of us.”
Franklin said there are several factors to consider regarding the number of wrecks involving deputies — 911 call responses increased from 21,000 in 2011 to more than 39,000 for the first 11 months of this year; more traffic on the road; and driving at night and in unfavorable weather conditions.
“Some of them were unavoidable,” Franklin said of the 10 wrecks.
Struck by others
Wrecks involving sheriff’s deputies and administrators included two patrol cars struck by an offender during a chase; two vehicles struck from behind in traffic on Sixth Avenue Southeast; a car struck by another driver who was charged with running a red light and driving under the influence; a patrol car that hit a deer at night on Alabama 36; and avoiding a dog that ran into the road at night on Alabama 36.
Franklin said the number of wrecks involving her employees last year is low considering the office has a fleet of 80 vehicles and deputies who drive an average of 300 miles per day.
“We review each accident and counsel the deputy involved to see where there could have been an improvement in the safety level,” she said. “But there isn’t much they can do about being stopped at a red light and cars slamming into the back of us, or being hit by a drunk driver, or smashed into be a fleeing offender.”
None of the deputies or administrators involved in the wrecks was seriously injured and none was formally disciplined.
However, patrol deputy Frank Anderson, who was involved in two wrecks in about four months, was reassigned to the Morgan County Jail for 30 to 45 days, she said.
“We felt like it was a good idea for Frank to be in the jail for a while,” Franklin said when asked why Anderson was taken off the road.
County insurance claim records show Anderson was involved in wrecks Jan. 13 and May 27 while driving a 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe.
In the January accident, Anderson pulled out of a convenience store in Hartselle and struck another vehicle while he was moving into the left lane to reach the median. Meadowbrook paid the driver of the other vehicle $2,000, according to the county.
In May, Anderson was on Alabama 36 answering a call with the car’s emergency lights on when he ran into a flooded area, lost control and hit a ditch and tree. Meadowbrook paid a $14,644 claim on the Tahoe, which was totaled. Franklin said there were three other wrecks at the same location that night because of the flooding and Alabama 36 had to be closed.
Franklin said traveling at high speeds during a chase or answering a 911 call heightens the chances of being in a wreck, but a slower response time by driving the speed limit could result in not catching an offender or a worse outcome for a victim.
“There’s a line there,” she said.
By Keith Clines Staff Writer
Other wrecks not involving the Sheriff’s Office in which claims were paid included a garbage truck that struck a utility pole while trying to line up the truck’s arm with a garbage container; a garbage truck that drove across a manhole; two separate incidents in which a driver struck and damaged highway guardrails; and separate incidents when Coroner Jeff Chunn’s vehicle had a broken taillight when struck from behind by another vehicle, and when Chunn hit a friend’s vehicle while backing out of a driveway.
Long said he thinks the county departments do a good job keeping the number of wrecks to a minimum considering all the vehicles it has and the departments’ various functions.
“Our goal is always not to have any” wrecks, he said.