Video report by Beau Berman, Fox CT
Text by Vanessa De La Torre, The Hartford Courant
HARTFORD— The city’s top attorney issued an apology to Mayor Pedro Segarra on Monday, two days after her city vehicle was involved in a late-night crash.
Corporation Counsel Saundra Kee Borges said she was sorry “for any inconvenience or speculation” that was caused after a 2004 GMC Yukon, driven by a city resident, ran a red light around 2:17 a.m. Saturday and struck the city’s 2013 Ford Explorer assigned to Kee Borges, according to police.
Kee Borges’ fiance, Deputy Fire Chief Terry Waller, was driving the Explorer and had a green light when the vehicles collided at the intersection of Asylum Avenue and Cogswell Street, police said. Waller and Kee Borges, a passenger, were extricated from the Explorer by first responders, treated at the hospital for injuries and released.
The city’s guidelines for take-home cars state that the vehicles should not be driven by anyone other than “the assigned employee, except during normal duty hours and only by another employee as directed by the department manager.”
Kee Borges, who also serves as Hartford’s acting chief operating officer and acting director of human resources, said she was attending an NAACP dinner Friday night when she received a call that one of her adult children was being detained at the Hartford Police Department. Kee Borges said the accident occurred after she and Waller left the station; she was too “concerned for my child” to drive.
“Although Terry is a city employee, I should have driven myself,” Kee Borges said in a statement.
Hartford police said the driver of the GMC Yukon, Edwin Rodriguez, 30, was soon found and arrested at 173 Albany Avenue after allegedly fleeing the scene to “use the bathroom,” as he told investigators. Rodriguez faces charges of evading responsibility and failure to obey a signal.
Saturday’s accident was the latest in a string of high-profile incidents involving the city’s take-home vehicles.
On Sept. 9, Segarra fired Rhonda Moniz-Carroll, a deputy public works director, after she totaled a city-issued 2012 Ford Escape in a Saturday night accident that injured another driver. Hartford police charged Moniz-Carroll with driving while intoxicated in connection with the head-on crash.
And earlier this summer, police charged Jared Kupiec, Segarra’s former chief of staff, with operating a car without permission and interfering with police. Kupiec was using a city vehicle after leaving his job, which officials noticed in July after the Ford Explorer was one of several vehicles damaged in break-ins near Kupiec’s Hartford apartment. Kupiec was later granted a special form of probation.
Nearly two weeks ago, Segarra announced that the city had reduced the number of take-home vehicles in its fleet from 73 to 45 for reasons of “efficiency, economy and the reduction of liabilities.”
Segarra reiterated Monday that he will continue to seek budget savings and “keep the fleet to an absolute minimum,” which could mean more cuts.
Segarra also said he was reviewing Saturday’s incident but expressed sympathy for Kee Borges, a top deputy with a long history in Hartford city government. She suffered leg injuries in the accident and was not at work Monday, Segarra said.
One of the city’s rules for take-home cars is that the vehicles must not “be used to conduct personal business … Brief stops transiting between home and work are acceptable.” According to Segarra, Kee Borges and Waller were attending the annual NAACP Freedom Fund banquet at the Hartford Hilton as city officials.
Segarra also noted that it appeared “the accident was not her fault” and that Waller, as a high-ranking fire official, is authorized to drive city vehicles, althought not Kee Borges’ Explorer. Segarra added that “to the extent that she might’ve deviated from the city policy, she has provided an apology.”
After getting the phone call about her son, Kee Borges said she left the Hartford dinner “immediately and drove to the Public Safety Complex on High Street in my city vehicle of which I have full commuter privileges.”
Garrett Borges, 24, was arrested at 10 p.m. Friday in connection with a domestic incident and was released from custody at 5 a.m. Saturday after posting $5,000 bail, police said. Borges appeared in Superior Court in Hartford Monday to face charges of disorderly conduct, threatening and possession of marijuana.
A woman involved in the incident was ordered not to have contact with Borges.
Council President Shawn Wooden was an honoree at the NAACP dinner that he said ended around 9:30 p.m. Friday. On Monday, Wooden said he was more focused on the city’s overall management of take-home cars than on the details of Kee Borges’ explanation.
“The biggest issue and concern is that we don’t appear to have good oversight of the take-home vehicles,” said Wooden, noting that the city council has been raising questions about the city fleet for more than a year.
At Wooden’s request, the city’s internal audit commission has been reviewing the city’s policies, assignments and monitoring of take-home vehicles. Segarra and the council are awaiting the findings.
City Councilman Kenneth Kennedy said Monday that employees such as Kee Borges should use their private vehicles and be reimbursed for mileage. Kennedy has introduced a proposal that would limit take-home vehicle usage to the mayor, police and fire chiefs, and others whose car is subject to collective bargaining.
It is not uncommon to see city vehicles being used on weekends for what appear to be non-business reasons, Kennedy said. “There’s almost nothing good that could happen, and it’s almost entirely bad in terms of liability.”
Kennedy’s proposal, currently in committee, has five council sponsors and could come to a vote in October, he said. Wooden called the proposed ordinance “a good basis for discussion that is headed in the right direction of where we need to be.”
Council members have also discussed the possibility of requiring all city vehicles to be equipped with global positioning systems to monitor their usage, Kennedy said.