The Jackson Police Department is conducting an internal investigation of one of its own officers' work in reconstructing a Feb. 11, 2009, car crash that took the lives of two Jackson doctors. Karen Irby, wife of Jackson businessman Stuart Irby, pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter Friday for her role in the collision. Irby admitted that she had drunk two glasses of wine that night before speeding in her Mercedes-Benz down Old Canton Road, where it collided with a pickup truck carrying Dr. Mark Pogue and Dr. Lisa Dedousis. Stuart Irby was injured in the crash and did not testify in his wife's trial.
Assistant Chief Lee Vance told the Jackson Free Press today that the department is investigating the accident reconstruction work of one of its officers."I can say that we found some flaws in the initial investigation," Vance said. "There were some differences in the speed calculation estimates."
Irby was initially charged with depraved heart murder, which requires that a person take acts that he should have known would result in someone's death. Early reports estimated that Irby was driving over 100 miles per hour at the time of the collision. A second accident reconstruction concluded only that Irby's car was traveling over 70 miles per hour, according to TV station WLBT.
Vance suggested that the department is also looking into other aspects of the crash investigation but offered no further details. In statements to WLBT, Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith criticized errors in the JPD investigation, including the speed calculations and collection blood samples for determining Irby's blood-alcohol content. The JPD investigator used expired test tubes for the samples, Smith told WLBT.
The officer responsible for the first, erroneous accident reconstruction is reported to be Chris Barnhart. Barnhart was also reportedly disciplined earlier this month for derogatory statements he made via cell-phone text message about first lady Michelle Obama during her visit to Jackson. Vance would not confirm the officer's identity, citing confidentiality on personnel issues. He said that the officer is "no longer investigating fatalities," however.
Vance also said that the department's original investigator had been certified in accident reconstruction but had not qualified as an expert witness for trials.
"There's a certification test that you have to take if you want to be able to represent yourself as an expert witness," Vance said. "Apparently he did not pass that. He was qualified to go out and do the reconstruction."
WLBT also reported that Smith is considering whether to launch a grand jury investigation of the Jackson Police Department's response to the crash. Vance said he had no knowledge of Smith's plans. Smith did not return repeated calls for comment.