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Ex-officer takes stand in his own defense

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Jody Buddemeyer cries during his testimony Thursday in Kona Circuit Court.

KEALAKEKUA — A former Hawaii Island police officer accused of fatally striking a bicyclist more than three years ago testified Thursday in Kona Circuit Court that 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.”

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Buddemeyer is charged 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 said.

After the moment of impact, Buddemeyer explained he drove up the road a little farther to look for an animal. Thinking he went too far, he turned around. It was at that point, Buddemeyer testified, that 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 hit. However, no injured animal was found.

“That’s one moment I have crystal clear in my head,” Buddemeyer told the court. “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 was driving home to Pahoa after working a double-back shift when the collision occurred. The former officer testified he worked from 6:45 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Feb. 28 and returned 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.

Buddemeyer told the court he’s been receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder since the incident.

The former officer added he also tried to remember more about the collision through the use of therapy. However, his efforts have been ineffective.

During cross-examination, Deputy Prosecutor Kauanoe Jackson clarified with Buddemeyer that it was his decision to move to the Big Island and work for the Hawaii Police Department.

When asked about whether or not he felt tired while driving on Waikoloa Road, Buddemeyer said he couldn’t recall.

Buddemeyer testified he didn’t recall there being an obstruction in the road or seeing another vehicle.

When asked about the car parts and items removed from the scene, Buddemeyer stated the bumper of his vehicle was originally in the back seat but 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.

The defense also called two experts to the stand.

The first was Sgt. William Duggan with the St. Paul, Minn., Police Department. Duggan also is an instructor for three police training companies that conduct training in best practices with law enforcement agencies nationwide. Practices also include physical fatigue and how it affects decision-making.

When asked by defense counselor Brian De Lima about Buddemeyer’s schedule, Duggan 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 said about the schedule. “You need two days as a minimum to get the sleep needed.”

Duggan testified that 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 collision 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.

Slagle also told the court he investigated Buddemeyer’s vehicle. He stated that he tested the headlights in a dark garage and observed different lines of sight while sitting in the driver’s seat. He added that a box for the police lights affixed under the rear-view mirror could be an obstruction of view. Slagle was certain both headlights were working during the test.

However, Jackson recalled officers who confirmed only the driver’s side headlight was operational.

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Closing arguments are slated for this morning. Then Buddemeyer’s fate will be in the hands of the jury.

Email Tiffany DeMasters at tdemasters@westhawaiitoday.com.