UPDATED | Driver found not responsible for hitting UMass alum in crosswalk

By Matt Rocheleau

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[Four portions of this story were updated between 12 and 3 p.m. on Friday, April 2. The updated sections are marked with asterisks (*).]

Local police will not file charges against the driver of a vehicle that struck and seriously injured a recent University of Massachusetts graduate who was crossing a stretch of highway in Sunderland where at least four other pedestrians have been hit by cars in the past five years.

*Contrary to a prior version of this story, state police are not conducting a separate investigation into the incident, meaning the driver will not face criminal charges. Sunderland police told The Collegian earlier today that state police also were investigating the accident on their own. When contacted around noontime, state police media relations did not immediately refute the claim; however, a closer look at their records indicated no such investigation was conducted nor is there one in progress, said a state police spokesman. Though state police may have responded to the scene, the spokesman said it is not typical practice that both state and local police would investigate an accident separately.

While walking on a crosswalk between the 7-Eleven and Cliffside Apartments on Route 116 in Sunderland shortly after 6 p.m. on Feb. 26, Casey Lee Patterson, 22, of Whitman, Mass., was hit by a Nissan pickup truck driven by Philip J. Rocasah, 68, of 16 Silver Lane in Sunderland, according to police.

At least two witnesses – a UMass student and an off-duty police dispatcher – said Patterson entered the crosswalk while the “do not walk” symbol was lit and the driver said that a recently installed traffic light at the crosswalk was green as his truck passed through, said a Sunderland police investigation.

That investigation found the truck was traveling less than 34 miles per hour in the 40 mph zone and that, “there are no signs of improper operation by the driver of the vehicle.” *Sunderland Police Chief Jeffrey Gilbert confirmed Friday that charges would not be filed against Rocasah.

While in a “semiconscious” state at the hospital, Patterson told police she remembered pushing the walk button before crossing the highway, but “couldn’t understand why she was hit.”

However, in a March 19 Facebook post, Patterson said, “Listen, the light was red when I started crossing, and the stop line next to the crosswalk is literally less than 3 feet away from it. It was impossible to notice he had crossed it until I woke up 60 ft away. He was speeding, he ran a red light through a crosswalk.”

*The police chief said nearly all of the drivers who have hit pedestrians in this area of Rte. 116 in recent years have faced charges, however “in this particular case the driver wasn’t charged because the investigation did not find him to be at fault.”

*Pedestrians are responsible for obeying traffic postings in the same way drivers are, he added, and walking against a “do not walk” signal is illegal. Gilbert declined to comment on why the police report said Patterson was interviewed in a “semiconscious” state several hours after she was hit but was never given a follow-up interview unlike the driver who was interviewed at the scene and again on March 2.

On Thursday, Patterson posted, “Police report found that the guy who hit me was 100% NOT at fault,” and in response to more than a dozen subsequent comments expressing disappointment in the police department’s decision not to file charges, Patterson responded, “My attorney is on it, don’t worry.”

A woman who answered the phone at Rocasah’s listed address said he did not want to comment on the matter. An automated message said that the number listed for Patterson in the University’s student directory “is not a working number.” Messages sent Thursday to Patterson via Facebook and her student e-mail were not returned.

Patterson, who was living in the nearby Squire Village Apartments at the time and, according to her Facebook graduated from UMass in 2009, was carried on the truck’s hood for around 40 feet until the vehicle stopped. She was thrown from the hood causing her to tumble around 50 feet further, said the police report written by the responding officer, Joshua S. Harris.

She was transported to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and suffered multiple fractures to her vertebrae, a broken left wrist and facial lacerations, the report said. According to Patterson’s Facebook, she spent around two weeks in rehab at the Bronson Rehabilitation Center at Noble Hospital in Westfield, Mass., and appears to be recovering without any major complications.

Patterson became at least the fifth pedestrian to be hit by a vehicle along that section of Rte. 116 since Dec. 2004, according to The Springfield Republican.

Jessica Hayes, a 25-year-old UMass employee, was struck by a car and died in the Dec. 2004 accident there, according to The Republican. That car’s driver was charged with vehicular homicide, but was eventually acquitted by a jury, said the Springfield-based newspaper.

Around two years later, a 56-year-old man was seriously injured there, and in Sept. 2009, two women were struck by a pickup truck while walking in the same crosswalk as Patterson.

Following the 2009 accident, more than $2 million was spent to improve the safety conditions on that section of Rte. 116, according to The Republican. Reducing the speed limit from 45 to 40 mph, installing a traffic light, improving sidewalk conditions and building a pedestrian island were among the changes made there.

With apartment complexes and bus stops on either side of the highway, along with a shopping plaza that includes a 7-Eleven, a liquor store, a pizza shop and a Dunkin’ Donuts on one side, the area can see heavy pedestrian traffic from local residents and college students alike.

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at [email protected]