New Hampshire politician steps aside after running over five ducks

When David Campbell, a New Hampshire state representative from Nashua, drove the wrong way in a hotel driveway and ran over five ducks, he knew that he had a problem. He didn't know that the incident would leave him a dead duck politically.

Campbell, who served 14 years in the state legislature, announced Wednesday he will not seek reelection. That came one day before the state attorney general released a scathing report of the events of Dec. 23, a night of eating and some drinking before the encounter with some ducks who lived in a pond in front of a hotel.

Campbell, 56, said he was leaving his post because the job took too much time and denied that the incident was reason for his stepping aside.

He had previously pleaded no contest to a charge of violating a state statute related to the taking of water fowl and paid a $695 fine. The man he called that night for help, Thomas Pappas, a Nashua police commissioner, resigned from the police commission in February.

Thursday's 14-page state report notes in its conclusion that "while Campbell's and Pappas' version of the events in many regards are simply not credible, their actions do not give rise to criminal violations."

Through his attorney, Pappas again apologized to the Nashua police and public for "any disruption caused by my part in the events of December 23, 2013, which I deeply regret."

The tale begins in the early evening on the day before Christmas Eve, when Pappas and Campbell were among a small group of lawmakers who had gathered at Fratello’s restaurant in Manchester for an annual holiday gathering. Legislator Campbell had a drink and hors d'oeuvres. His friend Pappas had a beer and a nibble before leaving to finish his Christmas shopping, according to the report.

By 8 p.m., Campbell arrived alone at the Speaker's Pub in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Nashua. Two other friends joined Campbell at the bar, where he had a lobster roll and drank a glass of white wine. Around 9:15, the party, now grown to four people, had another round of drinks; the three men had a glass of tequila each while the woman had a second vodka.

The road in front of the hotel splits into two one-way driveways with a small pond in the middle. The water from the pond is overflow from an indoor pool, so it doesn’t freeze in the harsh New Hampshire winter. The ducks, which the report notes "are not the property of the hotel," use the pond.

By 10 p.m., a van carrying a Southwest Airline crew approached the hotel. The driver of the van, who has worked for the hotel for seven years, told investigators that when he drops off passengers, the ducks often leave the pond and approach his passengers for food. "Airline crews look forward to seeing the ducks and often bring leftover snacks from the flight to feed the ducks," the report says.

The scene was set: Ducks seeking sustenance; Campbell leaving the hotel and entering his vehicle; the airline crew in place.

When Campbell approached the intersection, instead of driving to the right, he drove left, against one-way traffic, according to the report. Clark, the driver, heard Campbell drive by and did not slow down as he struck and killed the flock of ducks. Campbell later told police that he had double tapped his brakes to slow down, but his foot slipped, causing him to hit the gas pedal by mistake, the report said.

Southwest pilot James Murphy chased down Campbell's car and took a cellphone photo of the license plate. The report said the two had a confrontation, during which Campbell allegedly told Murphy that the ducks "should have moved."

Sometimes a duck has met a sorry end from a vehicle, but a group of five have never been killed before, according to the report.

Campbell eventually called his friend Pappas, who had served in the state House with Campbell, according to the report. Pappas, a lawyer, had also represented Campbell in a real estate deal. Campbell left an urgent message for his friend and when they finally spoke, Campbell said something to the effect that he had "screwed up" and hit the ducks at the hotel.

Police arrived, but Campbell had gone to his office in the building next door to call Pappas. Pappas said he did not know why Campbell needed a ride, but "when a friend asks for a ride, he instinctively says yes," according to the report.

In the car, Campbell told Pappas about the ducks and the confrontation with pilot Murphy. Pappas dropped Campbell at the apartment of a "lady friend," according the report. Then Pappas went home and called police, telling police that Campbell was at a friend's house.

The report includes a transcript of the call in which the officer knows he is talking to the police commission chairman who asks to speak to the investigating officer who is not present. Pappas, who was chairman of the Nashua Police Commission, said he would have Campbell call in the morning and the officer agreed.

It would be about a week before Nashua police finally spoke with Campbell in person, though there were conversations by telephone.

Investigators considered bringing a charge of reckless operation of a vehicle against Campbell and of “official oppression” against Pappas for allegedly hindering the case against Campbell, but decided not to.

The attorney general's report said that the state could not prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Pappas had committed a crime and that a reckless driving charge was not "viable."


Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World