Husband breaks silence about wife's fatal crash with on duty officer

Byron Merritt lost his wife, Elaine, in an Oct. 22 crash with an on duty officer. (Source: Byron Merritt)
Byron Merritt lost his wife, Elaine, in an Oct. 22 crash with an on duty officer. (Source: Byron Merritt)

WETUMPKA, AL (WSFA) - A retired state trooper is coping with the loss of his wife, who was killed in a crash with an active duty Wetumpka Police officer.

Byron Merritt is still working to settle into a new life without his wife, Elaine, someone he describes as his whole life.

"Living without her is tremendously difficult," Merritt said. "This senseless, illogical thing that happened on Oct. 22 took my everything."

Merritt says his wife went to Urgent Care in Wetumpka late that Saturday afternoon but didn't make it in time to be seen by a doctor. She'd merged back onto Highway 231, and was in the median when Officer Andrew Bass struck her Honda Pilot.

Bass was responding to a service call, driving more than 90 miles per hour at the time of the crash.  He was not using lights and a siren, which is required by state law.

Alabama law does not explain what constitutes an emergency response for first responders, but states lights and sirens must be engaged when speeding – and speed cannot cause harm to life or property.

A witness to the crash spoke to Merritt about what happened on Highway 231. Merritt said Bass was in the southbound lanes of Highway 231 and went into the same median where his wife was turning to go into the northbound lanes.

"He stayed in median lane, and before Elaine could move out of the way, he struck her," Merritt said.

Merritt learned about his wife's death at the hospital in Wetumpka, where he fainted and was taken home by friends after learning the worst news of his life.  The pain of Elaine's death has been so heavy, Merritt put their home on the market and moved closer to his immediate family in Covington County.

"I looked at that back door and I saw her standing there blowing me a kiss," Merritt said, recalling the last time he saw Elaine alive. "It tore me up to see that. I just couldn't live there like that. I couldn't sleep in the bed we slept in. I reached out for her and she wouldn't be there."

Despite Elaine's death, she's still speaking to him through her acts of faith and kindness, in the form of books and prayer journals Merritt recently found.

"Since I have moved and started going through her things, I have found books and prayer journals where she would have a person's name written and a prayer need," Merritt said. "Sometimes it would say the need or maybe it would just say unspoken, and there would be a date by it where she prayed over it. Then there would be another date and it would say cancer free, or have a check by it. A lot of times was over me. That's been real bittersweet."

Merritt explained Elaine helped him grow in a relationship with Christ and tended to all their older neighbors by doing everything from delivering dinner to reprogramming their phones and remote controls.

"She touched a lot of lives, and she's missed by a lot of people," Merritt said as he wiped tears from his eyes. "I am a better man because of her."

Bass was an active duty police officer prior to his indictment in late July. Our calls to determine his status with the Wetumpka Police Department have not been returned, nor have our calls to his attorney.

Bass is scheduled for arraignment next week.

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