Trooper Monaghan's Narrative Statement - 2/19/04

March 12, 2018

Here is the statement that State Trooper Monaghan authored 10 days after the crash, on 2/19/04, which was obtained via a Right-to-Know request. The Right-to-Know law (RSA 91-A) is New Hampshire's equivalent of the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). There is no real “new” information, but there are a few interesting points (outlined below).

First, as a quick side note, I think it's important to point out that by law, the public is entitled to access documents, records, and other information in the government's possession. This includes information held by law enforcement, and it also includes information contained in investigatory files.  The law (and case law) are clear on this point: the fact that a record is contained within an investigatory file is not a sufficient reason to justify withholding it from the public.  The burden is on the government (in this case law enforcement) to demonstrate how releasing a record will interfere with an ongoing investigation. Otherwise, "[a]ny reasonably segregable portion of a record shall be provided to any person requesting such record after deletion of the portions which are exempt under this subsection." 5 U.S.C. § 52(c) (1976 ed.)  The disclosure of Monaghan's statement is a clear example of that. 

 

Of course I am very grateful for the time and effort that the state's lawyers devote to evaluating and executing these requests. But I also realize they aren't doing it to be "nice."  They are doing it because that is what the law requires them to do.

 

Anyway, here are a few of the elements I found interesting in Monaghan's narrative:

 

What is Not in the Narrative

The narrative makes no mention of the red truck that Welma Robinson later reported seeing at the Swiftwater Shop. Perhaps that information was not learned until after Feb 9th. 

 

“Female Smoking a Cigarette”

One thing that jumps out is that Monaghan said that he heard the reporting party (presumably Faith Westman) say that she could see a single female in the driver’s seat smoking a cigarette.  Why might this be significant?  As we know, the dispatcher recorded that Westman saw a “male smoking a cigarette.”  When asked about this statement, the Westmans have repeatedly said that they were not sure if the driver was male or female.  

 

Given that Monaghan’s report contradicts every other report (as well as the official dispatch log), and given that the statement is written 10 days later and with the clear knowledge by that point that the missing person was female, it seems probable to me that the reference to a “female smoking a cigarette” is some combination of a memory lapse and/or a typo.   The only way to know for sure would be to hear the 911 recording of Westman’s call (which I submitted an additional Right-to-Know request for but was rejected).

 

Monaghan’s Specific Search Route

Another interesting point is that the narrative seems to indicate that Monaghan’s search actually started before he arrived at the scene. The route took him south from Lisbon and then east onto Route 112. He used his spotlight to look for footprints and went so far as to stop a driver at the intersection of Route 302 and Route 112 to ask if they had seen anyone on the road. It was also on his way to the scene that he stopped to speak with Welma Robinson near the Swiftwater Stage Shop.   

 

After arriving on scene and speaking with Cecil Smith, Monaghan reversed back and continued searching for Maura west of the crash site.  The picture below outlines that route. 

I do find his decision to turn around and search back west a bit curious.  First, a person traveling on foot can only get so far in a short span of time and he had just searched in the immediately westerly direction.  Second, by that point, Atwood was presumably already off searching the exactly same roads that Monaghan was about to cover.  It's possible that Smith did not tell Monaghan that he had solicited Atwood's help (though that would beg the question as to why Smith failed to mention that).  Additionally, it seems likely that Monaghan would have been aware that the other emergency response vehicles (EMT, Fire, Officer Smith) had also driven to the scene from the west, and would have been looking out for a person walking.  Lastly, Monaghan's jurisdiction was within eyesight of the accident scene, which was perhaps why he responded to the call to begin with, yet he chose not to search in that direction.

 

Of course, hindsight is 20/20.  I don't think it's fair to expect that Monaghan could have foreseen what the case would become when he made the decision to reverse back. But it would be nice to know a little more about what informed his decision and whether he realized he was duplicating Atwood's search effort to the west meanwhile no one searched east (the direction Maura was traveling). 

 

Timeline

No specific times are mentioned in the narrative, but it does provide a slightly better picture of the order of events, which I’m currently working on incorporating into the timeline.

 

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