Smith Driving the SUV, Witness A, and the Timeline

It would be an incredibly bold lie for Cecil Smith to claim he was driving the SUV if he was not. It also seems far-fetched to suggest there is a police conspiracy in which Smith is ‘covering’ for an officer who could be guilty of a serious crime (though such a situation would not be unheard of). Yes, Smith seemed nervous during the interview. Yes, his explanation as to why he would be driving the SUV seemed a bit rehearsed.

In fairness, being interviewed for a television show would make a lot of people nervous. And it is difficult to make a judgment without knowing his baseline anxiety level. For the same reason I do not believe it is fair to read anything into Kathleen Murray’s apparent discomfort in front of cameras, I do not believe there is a lot we can infer from seeing one short segment of what I assume was a much longer interview with Cecil Smith.

Having said all that, it is Smith’s timeline that gives me pause and that I am not quite able to square. Normally it makes sense to give at least five minutes of leeway here or there when developing a timeline. Memory is imprecise. Not even dispatch records are perfectly accurate. Yet with regard to time-stamping, cell phone records are about as close to perfect as we can get. Fortunately, we have Witness A’s cell phone records. We also have a fairly precise location as to when specific outgoing calls were placed from her phone.

If we all agree that the earliest Witness A could have made an outgoing call from her cell was 7:52 PM at the Beaver Pond, then as the show demonstrated, that puts her at the scene at 7:37 PM. (My estimate was more like 7:34 PM, but for the sake of argument, I’ll go with 7:37 PM ). While it would have been possible for her to place the 7:52 PM call after having passed the Beaver Pond, it would not have been possible for it to be placed earlier given the lack of cell phone reception in the area. In other words, in this case, the “plus or minus five minutes” only works in one direction. While she may have passed the scene at 7:32 PM, she could not have passed it later than 7:37 PM (all things being equal in terms of traffic, speed, etc.).

According to the records, Officer Smith arrived on scene at 7:46 PM. If the latest Witness A could have passed the scene was 7:37 PM, then how did she see the SUV nine minutes before Smith ever arrived? That is not possible. Logically, the only way(s) it seems possible for Witness A to have seen Smith in the SUV are:

1) Witness A passed the scene later than 7:37 PM; or

2) Smith arrived on scene notably earlier than what is recorded in the dispatch logs; or

3) Some combination thereof.

Could Witness A have arrived later than 7:37 PM?

Again, Beaver Pond is the first time Witness A could have gotten cell phone reception. So for her to have passed the scene later than 7:37 PM and driven the 10.8 miles to arrive at the Beaver Pond by 7:52 PM, that means she would have to have been speeding.

In the accident report, Smith notes the posted speed limit was 35 mph. For Witness A to have passed the scene at 7:46 PM, she would have to be traveling at a rate of 108 mph between the accident scene and Beaver Pond. That seems unlikely. However for her to have passed the scene at 7:40 PM, she would have to be driving about 54 mph, or about 19 miles over the speed limit -- a bit fast, but certainly possible. Given the nature of the road, anything faster seems less plausible. And 7:40 PM is still six minutes shy of when Smith reportedly arrived on scene at 7:46 PM.

Could Smith have arrived earlier than 7:46 PM? Could he have been there by 7:40 PM?

Of course it is possible Officer Smith arrived a few minutes before 7:46 PM. Maybe he got out and looked around the car before he radioed back to dispatch to inform them of his arrival. While that seems plausible, I do not think it is likely he could have arrived as early as 7:40 PM (in time to be seen by Witness A) for several reasons. First, at 7:42 PM, Fire and EMS were dispatched to the scene. If Smith was already on scene by 7:42 PM, I doubt he would have dispatched Fire and EMS if there was no one there to treat. Notably, Smith releases EMS six minutes after they arrive on scene (at 8:02 PM). It seems unlikely that he would have dispatched them out with no one there, just to have them turn around and go home.

Second, Smith says that after arriving to find the Saturn abandoned, he went up the road to speak with Atwood. According to the logs, Haverhill was not informed about Atwood’s 911 call until 7:43 PM, which would have been the first Smith learned of it as well. That means it is unlikely he visited Atwood before 7:43 PM. Moreover, when Dick Guy arrived on scene at 7:56 PM, he stated no one was there. This is presumably because Smith was up the road speaking with Atwood. According to Smith, he only spoke with Atwood very briefly (I believe he said a minute or so). That would imply Smith would have arrived at Atwood’s within minutes of 7:56 PM (as opposed to say, 15 minutes earlier).

Lastly, according to Smith’s accident report, he was not notified of the incident until 7:35 PM. That does not match what the dispatch logs say, which is that he was toned out at 7:29 PM. Another mistake? Possibly. But certainly a curious one. The time of 7:35 PM is coincidentally right around when I expect dispatch hung up with Faith Westman, just about when everyone would have looked away from the scene, and right when I expect Witness A was likely to have been driving by. So while the 7:35 PM notification could very well be just a sloppy error on his part, the implausibility of the timeline suggested by his statements are enough to make me wonder whether another officer could have arrived around 7:34 PM, and it was that officer that notified Smith at 7:35 PM. For the record, Smith also states in the accident report that he arrived on scene at 7:45 PM, which was one minute before he officially radioed in his arrival to dispatch (and likely his actual arrival time).

Conclusion: It is certainly possible that Cecil Smith was the officer driving the SUV that Witness A saw parked nose-to-nose with the Saturn. But as far as I can tell, that would mean that the facts we have about the timeline are not accurate, and the discrepancies would appear to be on the part of police. There is also the outstanding question as to why Officer Smith (or whoever was driving the SUV) passed Witness A twice (?). Again, this could have a very reasonable explanation. But it is just one more data point that suggests we are not being given a full and clear picture of the events of that evening.