When you are responsible for hurting some, and certainly when you kill someone, you should be sorry for your actions, you should apologize, and you should be held responsible.
That’s a basic tenet of human decency.
Regrettably, that’s not what two Dougherty County police officers did after their actions resulted in the death of Milton Wilcox of Athens in 2007 on Interstate 16 in Candler County, Ga.
According to briefs filed in the Georgia Supreme Court, in April 2007, Milton was traveling with his father, William, east on Interstate 16 in Candler County. The officers were also driving east on I-16 in separate marked police cars on their way to Savannah to participate in a joint law enforcement operation.
While William Wilcox was driving in the left lane, one officer passed him on the right. Shortly after, the other officer’s vehicle struck Wilcox from behind, causing Wilcox to lose control and roll several times. William Wilcox was severely injured and his son was killed. Wilcox says that the officers were driving at least 90 mph.
Dougherty County has admitted responsibility in the wrongful death; its insurance provider paid the Wilcoxes $250,000, but a human life obviously is worth much more than that.
On Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a state law that grants immunity for the officers’ actions because they were operating a vehicle while on the clock, albeit while not in pursuit of a criminal. Ironically, the offices were en route to assist with a law enforcement operation to help reduce the number of traffic fatalities in Savannah.
The immunity law may be constitutional, but in the scheme of doing the right thing, it’s unjust. And just because there’s a law that apparently protects the officers from being held liable to the victim’s family, that doesn’t mean they should hide behind the law.
We hope that Wilcox’s parents appeal the Georgia Supreme Court decision and that the immunity law, a regrettable outcome of tort reform, is struck down. If that doesn’t happen, Dougherty County should step in and pay a fair price for their police officers’ mistakes.
That would be the decent thing to do.
By Kevin Hogencamp