by Max Brantley
State Trooper Andrew Rhew has been fired — a second time — as a result of the fatal crash in which his patrol car collided in Manila with a car driven by Vickie Freemyer, a Blytheville teacher, while he was rushing to a call in Osceola.
Rhew was fired by then-State Police Director Win Phillips, but the firing was put on hold and he was suspended with pay while a criminal investigation was underway. That investigation ended with Rhew's no-contest plea to a negligent manslaughter charge. He was fired Friday by new State Police Director JR Howard.
The plea bargain became controversial immediately because Rhew received no punishment and will qualify for an expunged record at the end of a probationary period on the misdemeanor charge. Bobby Coleman of Blytheville, attorney for the victim's family, had previously said the family objected to the plea bargain. He has filed a motion in circuit court asking that Judge Cindy Thyer set the plea aside because the family was not notified. The law requires notice to the family, but does not allow overturning of a sentence if they are not notified. Coleman also argues that the plea deal is invalid because Rhew was not in court when the judge signed it. It was presented to her as an agreed deal by Special Prosecutor Will Feland while she presided in Marion. Rhew's attorney, Bill Bristow, argues that the family has no standing to challenge the deal.
The case has several tentacles. Rhew has said he will appeal his firing. Some sympathy toward him on the State Police Commission, which will hear the appeal, contributed to the earlier decision to rescind his firing temporarily. Also, a case for damages in the death likely will come before the state Claims Commission.
Statement from State Police follows:
Andrew Rhew was terminated as an employee of the Arkansas State Police on Friday morning, June 3rd. Mr. Rhew has placed the department on notice of his intention to appeal the termination. No supporting documents such as a letter of termination will be made available until there is a final administrative resolution.
The letter of termination, which details job performance records used to form the basis for termination, is considered to be exempt under FOIA (see AG opinion 97-261) pending a final administration resolution.
The Arkansas State Police Commission has not yet set a date to hear the appeal.