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Video clears New Orleans officer in fatal cyclist crash, proves witness lied about what happened

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Ramon Antonio Vargas

The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

Seeking to defuse suspicions about their investigation of an off-duty officer whose patrol crashed into and killed a bicyclist, New Orleans police on Friday released video recordings showing the cyclist rode past a stoplight moments before the collision.

The videos, from a municipal crime camera and another officer’s dashboard camera, contradict a woman who said she saw Carl Odoms waiting on the curb to walk his bike across an Algiers intersection the night of Aug. 27 when officer Derrick Williams suddenly plowed into him. The woman also accused Williams of speeding to beat a yellow caution light.

But the videos show Williams had the green light, and there is no evidence he was speeding, Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said.

“There are no wins in this situation,” said Ferguson, referring to how Odoms’ family has been grieving and Williams has been distressed over what happened that night. “Everyone is hurt.”

Police say Williams was driving an department-issued car east on General De Gaulle Drive as Odoms rode his bike north on Westbend Parkway. They say Williams hit Odoms after the bicyclist rode into the lane where Williams was driving as he headed to work.

Odoms was taken to a hospital, where he later died. Williams, who was not physically injured, passed drug and alcohol tests, showing no signs of impairment. Police put Williams on desk duty, per department protocol, pending the completion of the investigation.

Some people questioned the Police Department’s account of the wreck, accusing officials of unjustly blaming Odoms and absolving Williams. One woman interviewed on a local television newscast described seeing Williams’ car hit Odoms while Odoms was walking his bike and said Odoms had not yet left the curb at the intersection of General De Gaulle and Westbend.

“It seemed as if he [Williams] was trying to beat the yellow light because he was speeding,” Jasmine Radford said in the TV segment.

But a city crime camera at the site showed Odoms ride his bicycle through the intersection before being struck by Williams, who was driving in the right lane.

An on-duty officer who happened to be parked nearby also recorded video on his dashboard camera, police said. That video showed Williams had the green light when Odoms crossed into his path. In the video, sparks can be seen as Williams’ cruiser drags the bicycle.

Despite the video, Radford on Friday said she stood by her earlier account. “I know what I saw. I know what I heard. I stand on that,” she said. “They can try to discredit me.”

Sgt. Bernard Crowden of the the traffic fatality investigations unit said Odoms had the obligation to stop at the intersection as if he were driving a vehicle. Ferguson said there was no evidence that Williams was speeding or distracted when he hit Odoms, who police said was not wearing the kind of reflective gear that officials recommend when riding bicycles at night.

The dashboard recording also showed Williams after he immediately pulled over and called paramedics. The officer who recorded the video had also called paramedics.

Ferguson said Williams will remain on desk duty until he is declared able to return to work. He said Williams has been emotionally shaken up since the crash.

“All he kept saying repeatedly is, ‘That is someone’s family,'” Ferguson said. “‘That is someone’s loved one.'”

The Police Department released the video recorded by the crime camera. It did not release the dashboard camera video, though the agency showed that recording to news reporters during a briefing Friday morning.

Williams works in the 6th Police District, which patrols Central City and the Irish Channel, among other areas. He joined the force in April 1996.

Odoms’ survivors include three daughters, one son and nine grandchildren, according to his obituary. Ferguson said his family had viewed Friday’s video recordings before it was shown to reporters.

The Police Department typically releases such recordings in cases involving officers involved in fatal shootings. But after Odoms died, Ferguson said he expanded the agency’s transparency policy to release video in any case of a death involving an officer.

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