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Suspect charged with
fleeing Highway Patrol

Dennis James Cooper

Incident occurred during
Landmark ride-along

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

Running from the police rarely results in a suspect's desired goal. And any success is often temporary in nature.

Charges have been filed and a warrant has been issued for the arrest of a Kansas City man who allegedly caused a traffic accident after fleeing from Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. D.J. Hedrick.

Dennis James Cooper, 29, whose address is listed as 4109 E. 36th in Kansas City, had not yet been taken into custody as of Landmark press time. If and when he is, bond will be set at $25,000 cash only, per an order by Platte County Circuit Court Judge James Van Amburg.

A felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident that caused another person in excess of $1,000 in property damage faces Cooper.

He is also charged with a misdemeanor of resisting a lawful stop.

Cooper, already on probation for previous offenses, is accused in an incident that began shortly before midnight on Saturday, May 26. It occurred on the night The Landmark Newspaper was taking part in a night shift ride-along with Sgt. Hedrick. The first half of that night's experience was detailed in last week's Landmark.

This week's chronological recap picks up just after Hedrick had resumed patrol following a break at the Quik Trip on Barry Road just west of Interstate 29.

Saturday, May 26
11:38 p.m.: Hedrick's patrol car sits facing east at the stop light on Barry Road preparing to head southbound on I-29. A westbound Ford Thunderbird turns left onto the southbound onramp. Hedrick's trained eye notices a problem. "No front license plate," he says aloud. He accelerates, turns on the red lights, and is able to pull the Thunderbird over along I-29 in an area south of Barry Road and north of 72nd Street exit.

11:39 p.m.: After the Thunderbird comes to a stop, Hedrick notices a temporary tag sticker in the window. That "temp tag" is expired. Because of the amount of traffic on the interstate, the officer approaches the Thunderbird on the passenger side for safety reasons. The driver is the only person in the car.

The driver, a black male, appears to be talking on the cell phone and continues to do so while Hedrick asks for a license and registration. The Landmark photographer is stationed several feet behind the Thunderbird, near the right front of the patrol car. The man can't produce a driver's license for Hedrick nor any registration for the vehicle.

Hedrick would later say the man was indicating he was talking to a friend or family member on the phone, and made a comment that his friend or family member could drive his license out to the scene. The man told Hedrick he had been watching pay- per-view fights at a friend's residence on Barry Road.

Hedrick asks the man to step out of the Thunderbird and to have a seat in the patrol car. The man, later identified as Dennis James Cooper by authorities, stepped out of the Thunderbird. He took two steps toward the back of his car, made brief eye contact with the newspaper photographer, then quickly turned and got back in his vehicle. At this point Hedrick can be heard yelling into the passenger side window: "Stay here. Stay here.”

The man disobeys and the Thunderbird motors its way back onto the interstate. A major factor worked in the man's favor in eluding Hedrick: Interstate 29 curves to the right a short distance ahead. By the time the sergeant was back in his car and putting it into gear, the Thunderbird had headed around the bend and was not in Hedrick's line of view.
Hedrick accelerated at a fast but safe pace. He radioed to dispatch that he was in pursuit. The 72nd Street exit was just ahead and a decision had to be made: Stay on I-29 or take the exit?

Hedrick chose the exit ramp. "Is that him?" he asks as a vehicle could be seen far ahead at the end of the long exit ramp. It wasn't. It was a pickup.

At the end of the ramp, Hedrick looked to either side. No sign of the Thunderbird. He then accelerated up the ramp and got back on I-29.

As the patrol car continued several miles south on Interstate 29, a report of a hit-and-run accident came in. The hit-and-run had occurred along 72nd Street at Platte Woods, in front of the Park Hill Christian Church.

"Could be our man," Hedrick said.

Throughout the incident, a light--sometimes steady--rain was falling. Once back on 72nd St., Hedrick cruises up to the scene of the accident. First responders from the South Platte Fire Department are already there, as are Kansas City police, a Platte County Sheriff's Department deputy, and Platte Woods police.

A wrecked SUV is first spotted. "That's not him," Hedrick said. But a short distance down the road is the Thunderbird, sitting sideways in the street with obvious damage and its passenger door standing open. "That's him," Hedrick said.

The witness said the man believed to be Cooper was traveling at a very high rate of speed and had passed her on a hill. She said he was driving with his headlights shut off.

The witness said Cooper's westbound Thunderbird attempted to get back in front of her, but struck an eastbound Ford Explorer nearly head on near 72nd and Montrose.

The witness said the suspect quickly got out of his vehicle and fled on foot. A subsequent search by the sheriff's department canine unit--no doubt hampered by the falling rain-- was unsuccessful. It's possible the suspect had used his cell phone to call buddies to pick him up once he fled the scene.

Sunday, May 27

Midnight till approximately 1:30 a.m.: Hedrick works the accident scene. He talks to witnesses and fellow law officers, as well as the victim of the hit-and-run. She is identified as 29-year-old Mindy Boyd-Morris, whose 2001 Ford Explorer is totaled, causing about $6,000 worth of damage. The impact forced her to wipe out a fire hydrant. The hydrant is knocked to the ground but the feeder line is not busted, so fortunately no water is shooting into the air. Morris' air bags deployed and she was jarred by the impact. She denies immediate treatment but is encouraged to seek treatment later. She indicates she will do so. At one point she is spotted vomiting at the scene.

Hedrick takes measurements to reconstruct the accident. During the initial search of the Thunderbird, a female sheriff's deputy hollers she has found one marijuana joint in the car. Obviously illegal, but in this case it wouldn't turn out to be a major focus. In fact, later it's not known if the joint was saved as evidence. The felony fleeing charge is the focus.

It seems Hedrick isn't the only officer having a crazy night. Kansas City police have been busy in the Northland as well. A 57-year-old woman was shot to death by police officers after a standoff in the 8100 block of North Delta Street around 8 p.m. on a disturbance involving a person armed with a rifle. Any KC officers who were scheduled to get off at midnight have been ordered to stay on duty until further notice, one KC officer tells The Landmark.

Back at the Thunderbird, Hedrick pulls out receipts from a car repair shop. Also found is a gambling card from the Isle of Capri casino. These items would help lead authorities to identify the suspect as Cooper.

After the accident investigation is complete, a tow truck arrives and the Thunderbird is loaded on a flat bed. Hedrick orders a hold put on the car, just in case the suspect shows up to claim any personal belongings that were inside.

1:30 a.m: It's the wee hours on a Saturday night/Sunday morning. A holiday weekend. It wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility that there are some drunk drivers on the road.

That seemed to be at the forefront as Hedrick spends the rest of his shift, scheduled to run until 3 a.m., watching for any signs of impaired driving, such as improper lane movements, failure to signal, trouble staying in the proper lane, etc.

2:05 a.m.: Hedrick notices that a Pontiac Grand Prix, a 2001 model, driving in the center lane of northbound I-29 south of Barry Road, seems to be having trouble keeping it between the lines. He follows at a distance, and when he sees the left wheels definitely cross over from the center lane to the left lane, he pulls the car over. After discussion, the driver is brought back to the patrol car where Hedrick asks him a series of questions, including whether or not he has consumed any alcohol. "No more than three," says the driver, a St. Joseph man in his late 30's.

The man said he and his passenger had been at a Zona Rosa bar earlier in the evening and then spent time at Harrah's Casino.

Eventually, Hedrick put the driver through a series of field sobriety procedures. The driver blew a .10 on the breathalyzer, over the legal limit of .08.

Having felt the driver had failed two out of three portions of the field sobriety tests, which included some testing of balance, Hedrick puts handcuffs on the man, placing him into custody for suspicion of driving while intoxicated. A breathalyzer test is issued to the passenger in order to determine whether he can drive his buddy's car to the Platte County detention center while the driver will be riding in Hedrick's patrol car. The passenger passes the test and is allowed to drive.

State law mandates a period of 15 minutes of observation before the official blood alcohol content test is taken at the jail. This is to ensure that the suspect has had nothing in his mouth for 15 minutes, as the presence of residual alcohol will cause an inaccurate reading. Hedrick doesn't start counting the 15 minutes until arrival at the jail.

The portable breath test given at the scene of the arrest is not recognized in court. Testing done with the equipment at the jail, known as the BAC Datamaster, is recognized in court. It conforms to Department of Health standards

"I knew this one would be close," Hedrick would later say.

The suspect blows a .076 at the jail. That's under the .08 legal limit. He is set free. The St. Joseph man, who had a previous DWI offense about 15 years earlier, is relieved.

Hedrick's night shift, a routine that by all means has not been routine, comes to an end.



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