ELMORE COUNTY, AL (WSFA) - The manslaughter trial for former Wetumpka Police Officer Andrew Bass is underway in Elmore County.
Bass is charged with manslaughter in connection to a fatal 2016 on-duty crash.
Prosecutor Josh Cochran gave opening statements, explaining the elements of the crime and what transpired on October 22, 2016.
Cochran stated Bass was responding to an emergency call when he fatally collided with Elaine Merritt, 52, who was merging onto Highway 231.
Three seconds prior to the crash Bass was reportedly traveling 96 miles per hour, without running the cruiser’s lights and siren, which is the law.
Cochran said Merritt was in the median attempting to merge into northbound traffic on Highway 231 when Bass violently crashed into Merritt, making her Honda Pilot airborne 30 feet, landing several yards down the highway.
Merritt had to be cut out of the vehicle, and was pronounced dead shortly after.
“That’s reckless, that’s a reckless disregard for the safety of everybody else on the road that day,” Cochran said of Bass’ actions. “Even if he’s got lights and sirens blaring down the middle turn lane of 231 - that’s still reckless. Doing it without lights and sirens takes it to another level. That’s why Elaine Merritt isn’t with us today.”
Cochran explained the state’s laws that govern authorized emergency vehicles, stating emergency vehicles are able to exceed the maximum speed limits so long as it doesn’t cause harm to life or property, an exception granted only when lights and sirens are on and working. The law also states there’s a duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons.
“Just because you’re a police officer doesn’t mean they’re above the law,” Cochran told the jury.
Defense attorney Kenny James, who is representing Bass, addressed the jury next.
James explained this case involves two families, the Merritt family and the Bass Family. James then introduced the jury to the parents of Bass and his wife, and brought in Bass’ three young children.
James stated the only intent Bass had on October 22, 2016 was go to work and protect his community.
“The only intent he had was to put on his uniform, his badge, and his gun to protect all of us who are the citizens of Elmore County,” James stated.
James explained Bass was responding to a call of a drunk driver who was reportedly sitting in a car at a nearby gas station, and was speeding to stop that driver from doing harm.
“In a cruel test of fate, Andy was trying to get to that driver so they didn’t cause an accident -and in a cruel case of irony he was in an accident,” said James.
The state called its first witness beginning at 10 a.m. The trial is expected to last several days.