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Still drivin’ ’em crazy

October 7, 2005

In a tale that will not die, a North Carolina woman has filed a civilian complaint with the city against cops in the NYPD's 80-truck convoy that was stopped by Virginia State Police as it returned from New Orleans, Newsday has learned.

Civilian Complaint Review Board spokesman Andrew Case confirmed that the woman, April Strickland, of Sparta, N.C., filed the complaint and said the board would investigate it for "discourtesy involving one or more cops."

Case said Strickland telephoned the board Sept. 19, the day after the incident occurred and Virginia state troopers stopped the convoy.

That stop has been the cause of three weeks of recriminations that have appeared across the Internet with NYPD officers, as well as those from a smaller convoy from Passaic County in New Jersey, complaining that Virginia troopers had disrespected them despite their humanitarian efforts in New Orleans.

Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller confirmed Tuesday that it was Strickland's call to troopers on Interstate 81 in southwest Virginia on Sept. 18 that prompted what an anonymous writer on the Internet called "the largest car stop in America."

Geller said last week that the convoy had been stopped "on a heavily trafficked area of narrow lanes and sharp curves after receiving calls from motorists about an extensive procession of vehicles in the left lane with their lights on."

In her call, Strickland, who was driving behind the NYPD convoy, said she was unable to pass because the vehicles were blocking both traffic lanes.

She said that as she tried to get around the convoy, an NYPD vehicle pulled in front of her and stopped, nearly causing a collision. A few miles up the highway, she said, she was again cut off by an NYPD vehicle. It was then, at 10:25 p.m., that she called the Virginia State Police.

The Virginia dispatcher told Strickland to pull off to the side in the rear of the convoy and wait for a state trooper to arrive. Strickland said that as she waited, an NYPD officer walked over from a marked sport utility vehicle, pointed his finger in her face and asked, "What is your -- problem?"

Strickland said she asked the officer to step away and rolled up her windows. She said she smelled alcohol on his breath. Meanwhile, she said, another officer was urinating on the side of the road.Strickland could not be reached for comment.

Sgt. Kevin Hayes, an NYPD spokesman who was a convoy member, declined to comment.

The Jersey side. Meanwhile this week, Geller said the New Jersey convoy was traveling more than 90 mph in the right lane of Interstate 81 with lights and sirens on, nearly striking a Virginia State Police sergeant who was standing on the side of the road with a stopped car.

"He chased them and stopped the lead car. They were cordial and he warned them and left," Geller said.

Passaic County Sheriff Jerry Speziale disputed Geller's version, saying the Virginia story had changed from the convoy's traveling in the left lane to speeding in the right lane.

"I have 15 guys from various municipalities. Who should I believe?" he asked. "There was no validity an officer was nearly struck on the side of the road. How come there were no radio transmissions about this?"

Reason up for debate. So Mayor Michael Bloomberg's communications director, Bill Cunningham, has cited the Jewish holidays as the reason Bloomberg refused to debate Fernando Ferrer in Harlem. This recalls another time Cunningham said something equally questionable during a campaign.

In 1988, Cunningham signed on as campaign manager for Bronx District Attorney Paul Gentile, who was seeking re-election. But Gentile infuriated then-federal prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani, who claimed Gentile had distorted the contents of a confidential FBI report to smear his opponent.

Fingers pointed at campaign manager Cunningham. His explanation: "I was not the original leak."

Cunningham then quit the campaign. Shortly thereafter, Gentile withdrew.

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© 2005 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.