FAIRMONT — Marion County Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Freeman will not pursue criminal prosecution for Fairmont Police Department officer Jakob Streyle for his role in a July 10, 2019, auto accident that resulted in the death of Gene Santini, 72, of Fairmont.
Freeman confirmed his decision Friday.
“Basically, I was given the accident reconstruction and a full investigation by the Marion County Sheriff’s Department and, based on that investigation and the relevant code sections of the West Virginia code, I could not attach any criminality to Officer Streyle’s conduct,” Freeman said.
The prosecutor said he could not find where a crime had been committed.
“There may be other policy issues or civil liability, that’s for someone else. I just looked at it in the vein of whether a crime had been committed. And there was no crime that fit his actions that we could prove. I think that’s my obligation to make that call,” Freeman said.
Freeman said his decision was conveyed by letter to City of Fairmont officials and to the police officers involved in the incident.
Santini was struck and killed by the police department’s K9 Unit cruiser as he was pulling out of Bison Street across traffic and onto Country Club Road, headed toward Fairmont Avenue. The accident took place near the Smoker Friendly store.
Santini died of “blunt force trauma” on impact, according to the official report. Photos show Santini’s Subaru Forester bent into the shape of the letter C after it collided with the double-cab Dodge Ram truck driven by Streyle.
Santini estate attorney Tony O’Dell contends the K9 vehicle’s black box information shows Streyle was driving at least 73 miles per hour at the time of the crash. The posted speed limit on Country Club Road is 35 miles per hour.
O’Dell said the speed of Streyle’s vehicle alone is suspect, as is why the officer was traveling that fast on the two-lane road.
“The prosecutor said he couldn’t prove the officer was at fault in any way. But they’ve admitted, he was driving 73 in a 35. He wasn’t on an emergency call,” said O’Dell. “There was no siren, no light. If he’s in pursuit, he ought to have his lights and sirens on.”
The prosecuting attorney, however, said speed limits do not apply to policemen driving police cars.
“He’s an on-duty police officer in a marked cruiser, that’s an emergency vehicle at that time, and they don’t have the same standards as far as speed limits as we civilians have,” said Freeman. “Anytime a policeman is on-duty in a police vehicle, it is an emergency vehicle.”
Freeman also said eyewitness accounts of the accident were “conflicting” and there were “troubling inconsistencies with the scene and with other eyewitnesses.”
“Because of the conflict in the eyewitness accounts and the fact that he was operating an emergency vehicle as a policeman, it did not meet the criteria for any criminal statute,” said Freeman.
O’Dell has filed a wrongful death civil lawsuit on behalf of Santini’s family against Streyle, Fairmont police officer Christopher Guinup, who was riding in the police vehicle with Streyle at the time of the accident, and the City of Fairmont.
“The whole thing just kind of stinks,” said O’Dell. “We’re in a period of time when there’s a lot of attention being given to cops not being prosecuted when they do things wrong.”
O’Dell says Streyle was not actively engaged in an emergency call at the time of the collision and should not have been driving at a high rate of speed through a narrow, mostly-residential neighborhood.
The City of Fairmont requested a jury trial for the civil suit. “Emily Calhoun Santini v. Jakob Streyle” is set for October 2021.