Thursday, April 10, 2003

Twitty car wreck remains mystery

By Sharon Turco and Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Eight months and more than 1,200 investigative documents later, Cincinnati officials still don't know how Lt. Col. Ron Twitty's city car was wrecked July 4.

Lt. Col. Twitty
Lt. Col. Twitty
Exhaustive research released Wednesday by the Hamilton County prosecutor did, however, reveal some new information:

• Two witnesses said Twitty, then an assistant police chief, was out long past 1 a.m., when he said he went home and parked in front of his Bond Hill house. Later that morning he reported the car had been damaged by a hit-and-run driver.

• Twitty blamed Officer Ralph Berry, the first on the scene, for perpetuating rumors about the accident being "highly suspicious," Chief Tom Streicher said in his interview with investigators. Twitty, the chief said, thought Berry still blamed him for his being transferred several years ago out of the School Resource Officer program.

Twitty, who retired in September as part of a misdemeanor plea deal, declined to talk Wednesday about the discrepancies that turned up in the investigation. He has always maintained his innocence, saying he took the plea for the good of "my family and the community."

Twitty called police July 4 and said his unmarked Ford Taurus had been hit while parked in front of his house. The repairs cost more than $3,000. The report included aerial views of Twitty's house and street; six color pictures of other crashes, for comparison; and a 10-page inventory of everything in the Taurus, including two ice scrapers, five baseball caps, a pencil and some Listerine bottles.

The documents show that many police officers were immediately suspicious of Twitty's explanation - the first officers on the scene, traffic investigation specialists, the district administrative officer and captain to the chief. All noted a lack of debris at the scene.

But Sharon Zealey, Twitty's attorney, produced an expert who said the wreck wouldn't necessarily leave debris. She also noted during Twitty's July interview with the sheriff's office that deputies were presuming he had lied when embarking on the investigation. She called the witness statements that placed her client at the park three hours after he said he was home "raw investigative data.''

And she found a man who said he saw a two-car accident on Towne Street, where Twitty lives, about 3:30 a.m. on July 4. He said he saw no one there other than a tall, slender white man.

In the interview, Twitty maintained he didn't know how the damage happened. He said he left work the evening of July 3, then at 9:30 p.m. met other African-American police supervisors at Fricker's in North College Hill.

Twitty said they left at about 11:30 p.m. His wife, Yvonne, went home, but he said he stopped at Shaker's Lounge in College Hill, and stayed until about 1 a.m.

But Bill Spillers, manager at Shaker's, who's known Twitty for three decades, told investigators he first saw Twitty about 2:30 a.m. Spillers said he sat on Twitty's Taurus as he watched over the roasting pig in the bar parking lot.

Later - about 4:30 or 5 a.m., he said - he and others left the bar and drove to McEvoy Park in College Hill. He said Twitty was driving somewhere behind him. Johnny Ray Collins, also a manager at Shaker's, also told investigators Twitty was still at the bar after 2 a.m. He said Twitty and two others then went to the park, staying until about 4 a.m.

The Twittys' neighbor and landlord, Pauline Strayhorne, said Twitty's wife said the car was wrecked when Twitty parked it at a mall.

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