Off duty police officer evades paying for damages from car crash

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ST. LOUIS (KPLR) – Nearly a year later you can still see the damage after a van hit a home in South St. Louis.  St. Louis Police arrested one of their own, then three magic words seemed to get him out of it.

Homeowner Linda Simon said, “I think he was going almost 70 miles an hour.”  She said the suspect must have come down the dead end road that leads right to her house on Bates Street.

Family friend Cheryly Cantrell said, “It sounded like a train hit the house.”  Cantrell was on the other side of the window when the van struck.  It belongs to off duty police officer Mark ‘Barney’ Rodebaugh.

Cantrell said, “I remember I was laying in bed and all of a sudden, bam.”

The impact shook the home as Rodebaugh’s van hit a car sitting in the driveway, pushing it into the home.  Then van mowed down their fence.

Adam Simon said, “He didn`t seem to be of his right state of mind.” Simon was also inside the house.  He said he was outside within 20 seconds and saw one man, Mark Rodebaugh.

Simon said, “He was on the drivers` side of the van and he was making phone calls and kind of walking into the neighbor`s yard every which way.”

The police report begins with what looks like a clear cut case – “an accident involving an off-duty police officer who was driving while intoxicated.”

Simon added, “(Rodebaugh) sounded with strong conviction that he`s got good insurance.  (Rodebaugh said ‘I messed up,’ that was his exact words, not ‘we,’ (but) ‘I messed up.’”

That was important because hours later Rodebaugh said three words to police that changed everything, “I wasn`t driving.”

The twist came after internal affairs interviewed Rodebaugh, who said he “was in the back seat of his van when the crash occurred.”

Adam Simon doesn`t see how it`s possible.  I asked, “How are you so sure nobody else was there?”

Simon answered, “It`s a long driveway.  If somebody would`ve came out in the time I came out, there`s no way I would`ve not been able to see him.”

St. Louis Police pressed forward, arresting Rodebaugh and taking him to St. Louis University Hospital.

Cheryl Cantrell said, “I do remember him trying to take off and the cops trying to corale him because he was trying to go down Bates and they`re like ‘no you don`t want to do that.’”

Rodebaugh refused treatment, acknowledging he was risking ‘death.’ He wrote his reason in all caps -‘LAWYER.’

Police asked the Circuit Attorney`s Office to sign a warrant for a blood alcohol test, but a prosecutor refused for lack of evidence Mark Rodebaugh was operating the vehicle.

He made up a name for the driver, later admitting he quote ‘did not tell the truth.’

Three days after the crash, his brother, James Rodebaugh said he was the driver.  The police report says brother James has a revoked driver`s license.

Linda Simon said, “I had to pay for a rental car out of my own pocket, everything – and he got away with it.”

We tried getting answers from now former officer Mark Rodebaugh at Barney`s Sports Pub, where he`s connected to the corporate ownership according to state records.  A Barney’s employee told me Rodebaugh cannot be near the bar.  She wouldn’t say why.  So we went to Rodebaugh’s home on Alexander, where his wife answered the door and said ‘he’s not interested.’

The Circuit Attorney’s Office would like to solve the case with the public’s help.

Here’s the CAO’s complete response.

We completely understand why the victims involved in this case are frustrated. The public wants to know that when someone commits a crime – even a crime like DWI – they will be held accountable. They especially want police officers to be held to at least the same standards as the public, and we agree.

The challenge we face in this case is that we can’t prove who was driving the car at the time of the crash. Based upon the evidence we have, including statements from Mark Rodebaugh, Jim Rodebaugh, police, and other witness interviews – no one saw the car crash or who was driving the car at the time of the incident. The people who know who was driving the car have refused to cooperate, which unfortunately is not unusual in criminal cases.

Prosecutors did decline to issue a search warrant the evening of the incident because police could not identify who was driving the car at the time of the incident to establish probable cause. It is illegal for a prosecutor to issue a search warrant without sufficient probable cause, even if police are demanding the search warrant.

With or without the blood draw, several witnesses and the police saw that Mark Rodebaugh appeared intoxicated. It’s not illegal to be a passenger in a car and be drunk.

Jim Rodebaugh claims he was driving the car that evening, and we don’t believe him. It’s unethical for us to prosecute someone we don’t believe is guilty of a crime. Believing something and proving something are very different tasks. Under the law, prosecutors can’t and shouldn’t file charges unless we believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone violated Missouri law.

This case is extremely concerning for obvious reasons. We want nothing more than to hold people accountable who commit crimes, including police officers.

If someone at the bar saw Mark and Jim leave separately from the bar, or if someone was driving by at the time of the crash and saw who was driving that car, I would encourage them to contact our office immediately.

Susan C. Ryan

St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office Spokesperson

 

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