Man in crash that forced officer off JFX pleads guilty

The motorist involved in an accident that sent a Baltimore police officer over the side of elevated Interstate 83 has been convicted of three traffic offenses, closing one chapter of a crash that may have ended the officer's career.

A District Court judge fined Robert R. Vanderford $260, assessed three points against his license, ordered him to perform 250 hours of community service at a city police station and, upon the insistence of the victim, ordered him to spend two days in jail.

The 23-year-old from Roland Park was incarcerated for only a few hours before the judge brought him back to court and suspended the sentence. Attorneys for Officer Teresa N. Rigby and for the suspect said the unusual jail term for minor traffic offenses underscored the seriousness of the accident on June 21, 2011.

"This was a life-changing event for her," said the officer's lawyer, Mitchel M. Gordon, noting that the 28-year-old will probably be forced to retire on medical disability. "After the court case, he's going to go on with his life, and she's not."

Vanderford admitted to charges of failing to control his speed to avoid a collision and speeding, according to court records. He was found guilty of driving on a suspended license — the result of his failing to pay a fine in New York for making an illegal left-hand turn.

Rigby, who was just three years out of the police academy when the accident occurred, has filed a $15 million civil suit against Vanderford and the person who allowed him to drive the black 1999 Saab. But defense attorney Gary S. Bernstein said Vanderford does not begrudge her the lawsuit, because Rigby's medical bills are substantial and his client's insurance company is the real target.

Vanderford called Rigby "one of the most gracious and decent human beings anywhere."

The accident occurred in the rain as Rigby was helping a stranded motorist in the northbound lanes just south of Cold Spring Lane. She was standing on the shoulder as a tow truck driver hooked up the car when the Saab slammed into her cruiser. The cruiser struck Rigby, sending her tumbling over a concrete barrier and at least 20 feet to a paved parking lot below.

The officer was rushed to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in critical condition, with broken bones in her face, leg and pelvis. She underwent several surgeries, and her attorney said on Friday she has several more ahead.

Bernstein said Vanderford had seen the flashing lights on Rigby's patrol car as he drove in the middle lane. He sped up to get into the passing lane, but his rear tires spun. As he tried to correct for the skid, it sent the car into the back of the cruiser.

Gordon said Rigby will most likely have to retire next month. The Police Department in 2004 did away with light-duty assignments for officers injured for more than a year. If Rigby cannot perform her duties by July, she will have a choice of resigning or applying for medical disability, giving her 66 percent of her salary for life, tax-free.

The president of the city police union, Robert Cherry, called Rigby's situation "a tragedy. There was always an unwritten rule that if you got shot or injured in the line of duty, the police department would find a place for you and take care of you. … We took care of those who took care of us."


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