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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Wrestling with accident’s aftermath

(Dec. 18, 2014) More than a year after 16-year-old Tymeir D. Dennis and his then 17-year-old brother Tyheim D. Bowen were struck by a police car while walking across Route 113 in Berlin, many members of the community are still reeling.
The police investigation into the crash, claiming the life of Dennis and seriously injuring Bowen, surfaced nearly a year later. Despite the apparent thoroughness of the report, which labeled the crash an accident, it did little to quell a public still in a state of shock over the loss of life.
In the immediate aftermath of the crash, several citizens launched a Pedestrian Safety Committee that was determined to improve conditions for nonmotorists and to prevent similar incidents from happening again.
Patricia Dufendach formed the Berlin-based group with business owner Gabe Purnell, resident Sue Beaman, Worcester County NAACP President Dr. Roxie Dennis, councilmembers Dean Burrell and Lisa Hall, Police Chief Arnold Downing and Town Administrator Laura Allen.
Since the committee’s formation, speeds have dropped on 113, the town added, extended or otherwise upgraded several crosswalks, and bicycle paths were drawn.
Berlin’s mayor and Town Council vigorously supported the initiatives in public meetings. Still, some members of the community felt unsettled.
Purnell, a member of the NAACP for more than four decades, spoke out during a council meeting in November, saying he had seen the coverage of the investigation conducted by state police.
“Berlin is a community of talkers,” he said at the time. “People are talking, and people are confused and conflicted about it.”
Confusion, Purnell suggested, is a normal reaction, and he does not expect anything to change drastically just because the community remains perplexed by the report.
“At this point, I just assume in my heart that it is what it is,” he said. “Based on what we see across the country and what’s going on, the reality is when you come up against law enforcement, you accept what they give you and you move on. You’ve just got to process it.
“As a community, we just have to suck it up and keep on going,” Purnell continued. “Based on the realities of our time, that’s it for me.”
Purnell’s problem with the investigation – like many others in the community – is that the police themselves performed it.
“It’s been said several times, in order to get change in law enforcement, we need outside investigations,” he said. “If it’s inside, it’s going to be biased. That’s just plain and simple. Unless some changes are made at the federal level, it’s going to remain the same. And the community, as far as I’m concerned, is going to have to accept it. That’s the culture of law enforcement.
“You keep beating it and beating it and you just beat yourself to death,” Purnell continued. “You just have to tell your heart, ‘This is it’ and we have to accept the facts and move on. If somebody else has a solution, I’m sure everybody would be willing to listen. But, as of now, I don’t see any recourse.”
Tymeir Dennis’ father, Quentin Dennis, told the Bayside Gazette in September he was unhappy with the investigation and was planning to speak with the state’s attorney.
“I felt like it should have been another agency handling the investigation since it involved one of their officers,” he said.
“I’m not satisfied with the findings (in the report),” Dennis continued. “I think it was an uneven job. The officer wasn’t even charged with a speeding ticket or anything. I think at least speeding or something. When you have a fatality and another young man that lost a limb, some charges have to come out of that.”
Purnell echoed that sense of frustration, while urging pragmatism.
“I think we need to keep a positive relationship with law enforcement as much as possible,” he said. “If you get in competition, that doesn’t help the relationship. You accept it as is and you go on and you try to conduct yourself accordingly.
“There are bigger players than us,” Purnell continued. “You’ve got our governor, you’ve got our legislators – that’s where I feel it needs to be taken up at. They know the issue.”
Purnell praised the community’s response after the crash, saying residents “stepped up to the plate.”
“The state has been right there working with the community so, going forward, we’re making some positive changes, which I think helps,” he said.
Although he plans to continue his work with the committee, Purnell suggested that safety improvements on Route113 near the area of the crash “have gone as far as we can go.”
“I’m sure there are some other things, but that was the main course that we were confronted with,” he said. “I’m with the committee. Patricia is the chair and once we call a meeting, we’ll discuss what our next steps are. Whatever we decide in the committee is our next step, I’m sure it will be made public.”