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Injured Trooper's Fight For Life Ends

Injured Trooper's Fight For Life Ends

Boston Globe via YellowBrix

June 02, 2011

BOSTON – Eight years after her parked cruiser was hit by a teenager who was speeding, Ellen Engelhardt yesterday became the first female state trooper to die from injuries sustained in the line of duty.

The 58-year-old mother, who in 1981 became one of the state’s first female troopers, died at a South Shore nursing home where she was being treated for severe brain injuries suffered as a result of the crash. Engelhardt is one of 32 state troopers to die in the line of duty since the State Police was founded in 1865.

“This is a large loss,’’ said Colonel Marian J. McGovern, superintendent of the State Police, who served as Engelhardt’s drill instructor when she was a recruit. “She touched so many lives. She was a vibrant, outgoing person. People can tell you about her compassion and the passion she brought to the job. She was really a role model for a lot of people.’’

Six years ago, William P. Senne pleaded guilty to driving drunk on July 26, 2003, when he slammed his car into Engelhardt’s cruiser at nearly 100 miles per hour. The former sailing instructor from Wayland was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in the Plymouth County House of Correction, significantly less than the eight to 10 years that prosecutors requested.

Senne had spent the night before the crash at a Wayland party and was driving his father’s Volvo to a regatta on the Cape early the next morning. Engelhardt was working the overnight shift and had parked in the breakdown lane of Route 25 in Wareham. Her cruiser’s blue lights were flashing, as she investigated an earlier hit-and-run collision.

When Senne’s car struck Engelhardt’s Crown Victoria, the cruiser was propelled forward at 50 miles per hour, prosecutors said.

Yesterday, prosecutors said they are reviewing the case to decide whether to file new charges against Senne, which could include vehicular homicide.

“Our sympathies go out to [Engelhardt’s] family,’’ said Bridget Norton Middleton, a spokeswoman for the Plymouth district attorney’s office. “In terms of the criminal case, the prosecutors will review the evidence and the circumstances of her passing to determine if additional charges are warranted.’’

Senne has been released from jail. Neither he nor relatives could be reached yesterday. His lawyer did not return calls.

McGovern said her staff will be conferring with the district attorney’s office about possibly filing additional charges.

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William Senne, above, pleads guilty to causing the July 2003 accident that left State Police Trooper Ellen Engelhardt severely brain damaged.

“We’ll see what happens,’’ she said. “I believe in our judicial system and that they do the right thing. In this case, a young man did a horrible thing and changed the life of Ellen Engelhardt and her family forever. She never had the chance to meet her grandchild.’’

Senne, who was 18 when the crash occurred, had three speeding citations on his record. Also in 2003, he was arrested by Wayland police for having an unopened 30-pack of beer in his car while underage. He had no other criminal record until his guilty plea in 2005 to charges of operating under the influence to cause serious bodily injury and of driving to endanger.

Prosecutors said tests done nearly four hours after the crash showed Senne had a .051 blood alcohol level. They said government specialists would have testified that at the time of the crash, Senne’s blood alcohol level ranged from .08 to .123. The legal limit is .08.

Neither relatives nor friends of Engelhardt returned calls yesterday. A few months after the crash, Lora Tedeman, Engelhardt’s daughter and only child, told the Globe that the crash, which left her mother comatose, had a huge impact on her family. “This has changed everything,’’ she said. “It’s turned our world upside down.’’

Engelhardt was initially treated at Boston Medical Center and was then sent to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, nationally known for treating patients with severe brain injuries. She later lived in a Middleborough rehabilitation center.

At a press conference in 2003, Sergeant Richard Teves, her closest friend, said: “This is terrible, in every category.’’

Lieutenant Maryann Dill, another of the state’s first female troopers, told the Globe then: “I’m devastated. She was always smiling, always caring.’’

In a phone interview yesterday, McGovern said the family had yet to provide her staff with the funeral arrangements.

She said the last time she saw Engelhardt was several years ago at a road race in Marshfield held in her honor. Engelhardt had been an avid runner.

“She was unable to communicate and in a wheelchair, but she stayed for the whole race,’’ McGovern said.

She added: “Trooper Engelhardt has been an inspiration to every member of this department for the courage, grace, and dignity with which she lived.’’


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