Indianapolis knocked off the Bears, 29-17. It's a game that meant little to most LV football fans. It did, however, provide an excuse for mid-Winter parties everywhere, including nearly every bar and tavern. As the moon follows the sun, Superbowl festivities lead to more than the usual number of accidents. Even though a police officer was hospitalized and his cruiser damaged, Bethlehem has kept a lid on this story for the past three years. You see, if word leaked out, it might embarrass the Mayor. Bethlehem brass want to "serve and protect," but I have to wonder whether they're protecting the public or Mayor John Callahan.
Craig Kennedy, a Bethlehem Police officer, has just been awarded a unit citation. But three years ago, he could easily have lost his life. He was on duty after the Superbowl, patrolling in South Bethlehem. Roads were dry. Suddenly, while driving along Hellertown Road at 1:03 AM, he noticed the headlights of a vehicle coming right at him from Shimersville Road. That car was not only driving the wrong way on a one-way road, but was moving at a high rate of speed. Before Officer Kennedy could react, that car ran into him on the passenger side of his cruiser. Kennedy must have been knocked unconscious because the next thing he remembers is another officer asking him if he was alright. He was treated at the hospital and missed some time before being cleared for duty.
The car that collided with Kennedy's cruiser, a white Volvo, was on its roof in the grass near Hellertown Road. Its driver and female passenger were fortunately uninjured, but the Volvo itself was totalled. The police cruiser also sustained heavy damage.
When a Bethlehem police officer is hospitalized in the line of duty, and by a car driving too fast and in the wrong direction on a one-way road, that's news. Especially when the driver just happens to be Dino Cantelmi, the Mayor's brother-in-law. Amazingly, there never was any account of this incident in either The Morning Call or Express Times. One former reporter tells me one newspaper might miss a story like this, but not both. He questioned whether this incident was ever included in the police blotter for that day.
I decided to check this out myself, and went to the Bethlehem Police Department yesterday after making sure I had no outstanding warrants for unpaid parking tickets. I wanted to see the police blotter for February 4, 2007, the date of this accident. Was this incident ever included?
I've been spoiled because Northampton and Lehigh County are both excellent at providing information. The practice transparency. Bethlehem's a different story. I got the bum's rush.
Records, my first stop, sent me to the desk sergeant. He actually tried to convince me there were no police blotters in 2007, and that this is some recent innovation started within the last two years. Obviously, there must have been some kind of system for reporters, even back in the dark ages of 2007. The desk sergeant decided to check with his captain, and that's when I told him one of his fellow police officers was injured in the line of duty three years ago, but there never had been any public report of the incident. I asked for the incident report, too, as well as pictures of the damaged cruiser.
I had come at a bad time. Shift change. So officers forgot about me as some left and others reported in. I spent a good 15 minutes listening to one officer professionally field calls from people with different problems. I was taking notes, too, figuring some of them might be pretty good stories. That's when they sent me down the hall to sit next to a coke machine and out of their way.
After a good thirty minutes, Captain Kravitz came back to me. He had been talking to city lawyers about my request for the blotter and Cantelmi report. He told me I'd have to request the blotter from the legal department. And under no circumstances would I get a copy of the incident report, which could be provided only to the parties directly involved in the accident.
Huh? Police blotters and incident reports are both very clearly public records, as a 2009 decision of the state's Office of Open Records makes clear. So why the roadbock? Why the lack of transparency?
While I was unsuccessfully arguing my case with Captain Kravitz, who incidentally is a gentleman, DCED Director Tony Hanna strolled by, and assured me "He [Kravitz] is so transparent I can see through him." I think I could see through him, too, and told him he was protecting Mayor Callahan at the expense of an officer injured in the line of duty.
"Wouldn't you want to protect one of your own?" I asked him, trying to shame him into doing the right thing.
Other police officers have done that. You see, I have the incident report, thanks to some cops who do not like the way one of their own was brushed under a rug to avoid a story that might embarrass Callahan. In addition to seeking the blotter for that day, I wanted to see if the brass would resist my attempt to find out what happened. They did.
So much for a transparent Callahan administration.
I spoke with Cantelmi's female companion and passenger, but will keep her name out of this out of respect for her privacy. According to her, Cantelmi was driving her home in her car because she had a bit too much to drink. She insisted Cantelmi had never touched a drop, and added that Officer Kennedy was really to blame because he must have been doing at least 80 mph.
Well, according to the incident report that Bethlehem police refuse to give me, she was putting on lip gloss and had no idea what had happened. And guess what? Cops smelled booze, and Cantelmi himself admitted he had been drinking. He blew a 0.06 on a notoriously inaccurate field breathalyzer.
This is where things get strange. No field sobriety tests were administered to someone who had just been speeding the wrong way on a one way road at 1:03 AM, crashing into and injuring a police officer, as well as damaging his cruiser.
Also, instead of taking him to the DUI processing center, where a blood sample could be drawn, Cantelmi and companion were taken back to Bethlehem police headquarters. If this had been you or me, it's a safe bet that we'd be carted to the DUI center and perhaps even to jail, especially after injuring an officer. But brother-in-law Cantelmi was slapped on the wrist, charged with the summary offenses of careless driving and driving the wrong way. He was cited by mail, and quickly paid his fine.
Officer Kennedy's cruiser was towed to a city garage, where it sat so long that officers began jokingly referring to it as the "Cantelmi cruiser." It was just fixed recently. Why so long and who paid for the damages? Was it Cantelmi or did it come out of the general fund?
Who paid for Officer Kennedy's workers comp? Was it Cantelmi or the City?
Most importantly, what did the Mayor know, and when did he know it? Was he called about his brother-in-law? Did the decision to avoid the DUI Center have anything to do with the Mayor?
These are the kinds of questions that arise when government officials, whether they are police brass or the Mayor or city lawyers, attempt to hide the truth. It's not the accident. Anybody could be involved in an accident. But why the need to cover it up? Why the penchant for secrecy, instead of transparency? This not only hurts police officers who risk their lives for us every day, but it hurts the public. Like it or not, we do have a right to know.
Before we get into the left v. right arguments, it's important to know whether a leader seeking office is both accountable and transparent. John Callahan lacks the transparency we should demand in a member of Congress.