In wake of crash, Trooper ticketed

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Crushed Mustang: The front end of a car police identified as Christopher Nations’s 2005 two-door Ford was smashed between the two parked vehicles — an SUV and a pickup truck — which it hit in the wee hours of last Thursday morning. The crash occurred near 176-178 Main Street, at left; the house next door, 174 Main Street, barely visible to the right, is owned by Fred Kuntzsch. Kuntzsch also owns the pickup truck, at right, that was crumbled.

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Missing driver: It was still dark on the morning of April 17 when a Mustang speeding on Altamont’s Main Street collided with two parked vehicles. Firefighters doused the flames after the crash. The driver escaped before the car caught fire, police say, and he could not be found. Christopher Nations, a State Trooper, turned himself in that evening and was ticketed for imprudent speed and leaving the scene of an accident.

GUILDERLAND — The whoosh of a fast car woke Jerry Oliver from his sleep in the wee hours of April 17.

His bedroom at 147 Main Street is in the front of his house, facing the street. Oliver had the window open and was sound asleep when, at 2:49 a.m., he said, “I heard a sound like a race car, really fast. I’m sitting up in bed. I thought it must be a police car.”

But he looked out the window and saw the car racing along Main Street had no car-top lights flashing.

“It was going at breakneck speed — and then I heard a crash. I grabbed my slippers and pulled on some pants, thinking I would pull someone from a wreck.”

As he hurried up Main Street, toward the intersection with Maple Avenue, Oliver called 911 on his cell phone.

Just before the intersection, he saw a Mustang crushed between a silver pickup truck and a black SUV — “like an accordion,” he said. “Flames were shooting out…You couldn’t get near it,” he said of the Mustang. “It was so hot.”

There was no body to pull from the wreck. The driver had fled the scene.

Police arrived and searched the neighborhood as dawn broke, to no avail.

The license plate was clearly visible on the rear end of the Mustang.

This week, Captain Curtis Cox with the Guilderland Police said that the 2005 Mustang was registered to Christopher Nations, 31, of Altamont. Police listed the crash as occurring at 2:54 a.m. on April 17.

Cox described events unfolding this way: Nations, heading west on Main Street, struck a parked 2005 Ford pickup truck belonging to Fred Kuntzsch. The impact moved the parked pickup forward, toward Maple Avenue, but, Cox theorized, the Mustang was moving faster than the pickup it hit, and so ended up wedged between the pickup and another parked vehicle — a 2011 Toyota SUV owned by Nicholas Knapp.

“The car did not burst into flames when it hit the others,” Cox said. “It caught fire later.”

This would have allowed Nations time to flee.

“He left the scene. We conducted a search,” said Cox. He wasn’t located until he turned himself in at the Guilderland Police station at about 6 p.m. on Thursday evening.

Nations was ticketed for imprudent speed and for leaving the scene of the accident.

He could not be reached for comment.

Asked if drugs or alcohol were involved, Cox said that it was “so much later” that Nations was not tested for drugs or alcohol.

Cox also reported there were “no injuries.”

He said he did not know how fast Nations was going and did not know what was the reason for the speed or for the crash into parked vehicles.

The Enterprise observed there were no black tire marks — which might have indicated applying brakes — on the pavement where the crash occurred.

Fred Kuntzsch, who owns the building at 174 Main Street in front of which the crash occurred, said he regularly gets up early to be ready for his job at Atlas Copco in Voorheesville, which starts at 5 a.m.

“I was in the bathroom…I heard a big crash. I knew it was my truck,” he said.

When Kuntzsch’s truck was hit, the cap flew off the back. The road, sidewalk, and nearby lawn were littered with broken beer bottles. “All my returnables were in the back of my truck,” he said. “I had loaded them up from the winter. They went all over.”

Kuntzsch said that police at the scene told him Nations was a State Trooper.  Cox then confirmed for The Enterprise that this was true.

Asked if the Guilderland Police handled the case differently because Nations was a State Trooper, Cox said, “No. It shouldn’t make any difference at all.”

He added, “The most important thing is we want to make sure anyone in a vehicle isn’t injured.”

He reiterated that Nations was given the “appropriate tickets.”

“Internal Affairs people showed up...” said Kuntzsch. “A criminal investigation is ongoing.”

Trooper Nathan Riegal of Troop C in Sidney, where Nations was stationed after graduating in December from the Basic School of the New York State Police Academy, said, “We don’t comment on anyone who works as a State Trooper.”

Darcy Wells, director of Public Information for the State Police, responded to just two of the eight questions e-mailed by The Enterprise.

“All I can say is he was suspended and ticketed for leaving the scene and for speed that was unreasonable and imprudent,” said Wells. “He’s not out there actively representing the State Police.”

She did confirm that, in addition to the Guilderland Police investigation, in such a situation, “We would conduct our own investigation as well.”

Wells would not say when the investigation might be complete nor would she comment on if use of drugs or alcohol is being investigated.

Because of Civil Rights Law, records that may be used in determining promotions of police officers are exempt from disclosure; only criminal charges would be made public.

Wells also declined to comment on general State Police procedures for investigation and discipline in such situations. “I’m not going to do hypotheticals,” she said.

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