KEALAKEKUA — A former Hawaii Police officer accused of fatally striking a cyclist testified in 3rd Circuit Court he didn’t remember the moment the collision occurred the morning of March 1, 2015.
“I don’t remember the moment of the accident,” Jody Buddemeyer told the jury Thursday morning. “I felt a shudder when there was an impact.”
The state has charged Buddemeyer with negligent homicide, false reporting to law enforcement and evidence tampering. The former officer is accused of hitting cyclist Jeffrey Surnow while operating his subsidized police vehicle on Waikoloa Road.
While on the stand, Buddemeyer testified he didn’t see a flashing red light affixed to a bike or a cyclist.
“I thought I hit an animal,” he stated.
After the moment of impact, Buddemeyer explained he drove up the road a little further to look for an animal. Believing he had gone too far, he turned around. It was at that point, Buddemeyer testified, he saw the first witness flag him down.
It was at that time Buddemeyer saw a flashing red light and learned Surnow had been hit and killed.
“I did check on the status of the cyclist,” the former officer told the court. “I have a memory that I tried chest compressions.”
Buddemeyer does remember moving the bike off Surnow. He also admitted to putting broken car parts in his trunk.
“I don’t have a memory of picking of the pieces,” he stated. “But I know that it happened.”
Previous testimony by retired Hawaii Police Officer Lance Ambrose indicates he drove with Buddemeyer to look for a pig the defendant said he had hit. However, no injured animal was found. Ambrose testified this week as he drove away from the scene the morning of the accident, something didn’t feel right and turned back to talk to the defendant.
“That’s one moment I have crystal clear in my head,” Buddemeyer told the court of his conversation with Ambrose. “Lance came back. He grabbed both my shoulders and he said something’s not right. This doesn’t make sense. That’s when it hit me that I had to have hit him.”
Buddemeyer testified he told officers with him at the scene that car parts were in his car and surrendered his car keys before going to the Waimea police station with Ambrose.
Buddemeyer had been driving home to Pahoa after working a double-back shift when the accident occurred. The former officer testified he had worked Feb. 28 from 6:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and return to work about seven hours later at 10:30 p.m.
Between the two shifts, Buddemeyer told the court, he worked two voluntary hours on a speed grant. His reasoning being it was easier to power through and stay awake than go home.
“I didn’t realize I was as tired as I was,” Buddemeyer testified of the morning of the accident. “I was trying to do my job.”
Buddemeyer told the court he’s been receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder since the fatal accident.
“I tried to deal with it on my own and I can’t,” he said.
The former officer added he’s also tried to remember more about the accident through the use of therapy. However, his efforts have been ineffective.
During cross-examination, Deputy Prosecutor Kauanoe Jackson clarified with Buddemeyer it was his decision to move to the Big Island and work for the Hawaii County Police Department.
When asked about whether or not he felt tired while driving on Waikoloa Road, Buddemeyer said he couldn’t recall.
“I was paying attention to the road to the best of my ability,” he stated.
Buddemeyer testified he didn’t recall there being an obstruction in the road or seeing another vehicle.
“I don’t have a memory of that moment,” he reiterated.
When asked about the car parts and items removed from the accident scene, Buddemeyer stated the bumper of his vehicle was originally in the back seat, however he moved it to the trunk in the presence of officers.
Jackson recalled officers to the stand Thursday. They testified they didn’t witness Buddemeyer move car parts from his vehicle to his trunk.
Ambrose was one of the officers who testified he didn’t see Buddemeyer move car parts, however he admitted he could have missed something.
“But it doesn’t seem plausible to me,” he said.
The defense also called two experts to the stand. The first was Sgt. William Duggan with St. Paul Police Department of St. Paul, Minnesota. Duggan is also an instructor for three police training companies that conduct trainings in best practices with law enforcement agencies nationwide. Practices also include physical fatigue and how it affects decision-making.
The court declared Duggan an expert in police work scheduling. When asked by defense counselor Brian De Lima about Buddemeyer’s schedule, he testified in the 800 police departments he’s consulted with, Hawaii County is the only department that has the fast-forward rotating schedule.
“That time off doesn’t allow any recovery time,” Duggan stated of the schedule. “You need two days as a minimum to get the sleep needed.”
Duggan testified Buddemeyer rotated every month.
“It’s more common for departments to rotate schedules every six months or a year,” he added.
Wayne Slagle, of Accident Reconstruction Engineering, was the last to take the stand for the defense. He told the jury he reviewed the accident scene, photos and the vehicle in the fatal crash.
Photographs from the scene depicted gouge marks in the roadway. Slagle testified the back tire of Surnow’s bicycle caused the marks. He added the farthest mark was 24 inches left of the fog line.
“If the cyclist has been riding a foot in from the scrape marks or on the fog line this accident wouldn’t have occurred,” Slagle testified. “He may have been brushed by the mirror.”
Slagle also told the court he investigated Buddemeyer’s vehicle. He stated he tested the headlights in a dark garage and observed different lines of sight while sitting in the driver’s seat. He added a box for the police lights affixed under the rear-view mirror could be an obstruction of view.
While the vehicle is equipped with high beam lights, Slagle told the court he only tested the lights with the low beams. He added he didn’t test the visibility of the flashing red light from the bike because it wasn’t provided to him.
Slagle was certain both headlights were working during the test of the lights.
However, Jackson recalled officers who confirmed only the driver’s side headlight was operational.
After both sides rested their cases, De Lima again asked Judge Melvin Fujino to move for acquittal. His motion was denied.
Closing arguments will take place this morning and then the jury will begin its deliberations.