|Sundeep Caplash and his wife, Nitu
The Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook, Alabama, long has ranked as one of the wealthiest municipalities in America.
You would think that "The Tiny Kingdom" could afford a semi competent police department. But based on recent news reports about the investigation of a jogger's death earlier this year, you would be wrong. The investigation, in fact, emits such a foul odor that the words "cover up" come quickly to mind.
That, of course, leads to the following questions: What is being covered up? Why is it being covered up? Who is directing the cover up? And who is being protected in the cover up?
We don't have the answers to those questions, but something about the death of Sundeep Caplash doesn't smell right. We've seen evidence of odd behavior connected to law enforcement in Mountain Brook, and that makes the Caplash case even more troubling.
Caplash, 38, was vice president for wealth management at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Birmingham. Before that, he had worked as vice president for investments at UBS. He had become an avid jogger and was out for an early-morning training run on January 31 when he was struck by a car and killed on one of Mountain Brook's main thoroughfares.
The driver was a Mountain Brook police officer who had just gotten off the night shift when the accident occurred at about 6 a.m. The officer was Jerry Scott Smith, and his name had not been publicly revealed until this week.
An investigation, with its results released in late March, found that Caplash was at fault in the accident. Who conducted the investigation? The Mountain Brook PD, with help from the Alabama State Troopers.
Was the police department protecting one of its own? The Caplash family apparently suspected as much. They hired Leon Ashford, a lawyer with the Birmingham firm of Hare Wynn Newell & Newton, and new information indicates that Caplash might not have been at fault. It also contradicts the earlier investigation on key points and indicates evidence has been destroyed.
Here is how we reported on the March investigation:
Cpl. Steve Smith of the Alabama State Troopers, who assisted Mountain Brook police with the investigation, said Caplash was at fault for running with traffic rather than against, not wearing reflective clothing, and running in the street when a sidewalk was available.
We now know, however, that Caplash was wearing a reflective vest, and under Mountain Brook ordinance, that made it lawful for him to be running in the street at that hour. And what happened to his vest, which a reasonable person might consider to be fairly important evidence? It was destroyed. Reports The Birmingham News:
According to reports by the police and the coroner's office, the jacket was photographed during the medical examiner's investigation, but then was destroyed. The coroner and Mountain Brook Police together concluded that blood-soaked jacket wasn't valuable as evidence and because of its condition was a "biohazard." So, in the end, the jacket wasn't available for the state troopers to examine first-hand.
This is the same Jefferson County Medical Examiner's Office that made a suicide finding in the death of Mountain Brook resident Major Bashinsky, even though the autopsy report presents no scientific evidence to support that conclusion.
Speaking of Major Bashinsky, he was an attorney who specialized in estate planning, financial planning, and investments. Sundeep Caplash also worked in the investment field and was based near a community with large sums of wealth to be managed. Is it curious that two men who worked with investments--and had ties to Mountain Brook--would die in very public and mysterious events within about eight months of each other? We think it is.
If I were a member of the Caplash family, I would not blindly assume that Sundeep Caplash's death was an accident. I also would not assume that Officer Smith was behind it.
New information found no evidence that Smith was speeding or impaired by alcohol, drugs, or medication. It also found that he was not distracted by the use of a cell phone.
As we noted in an earlier post, speed limits in that area of Mountain Brook tend to be very low, in the 20 to 40 range. If the driver wasn't speeding, how did he hit Caplash hard enough to kill him--and throw him forward, past his running partner?
Here are a few other questions I would ask if I were a member of the Caplash family:
* Reports indicate that Smith had just gotten off the night shift. Is it normal for the night shift to end at 6 a.m.? Many 24-hour operations work on a 7-3, 3-11, 11-7 schedule. Does the Mountain Brook PD do it differently?
* Did Sundeep Caplash work with specific clients at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney? Had any of them seen a downturn in their investments? Did any of them have reason to be disgruntled?
* Did Caplash have oversight responsibility in his job? Had he noticed any irregularities that might cause him to make a report to authorities?
* Did Caplash have any professional connections to Major Bashinsky or the estate of his father, Sloan Bashinsky Sr.?
* Did Caplash have any professional connections to William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig, a Mountain Brook businessman whose W&H Investments was involved in a lawsuit with the Bashinsky estate at about the time Major Bashinsky disappeared?
That last question might seem out of left field. But consider this oddity: As we reported in a previous post, Chip Hazelrig has a lengthy record of traffic offenses, including a DUI/speeding offense for driving more than 100 mph on Highway 280. Here is how we reported on that incident:
Mountain Brook Police Officer Jerry S. Smith stopped Hazelrig at 11:56 p.m. on August 10, 2007. While stationed at the site of the old Mountain Brook Inn, Smith observed Hazelrig's black Mercedes SL 65 driving at a high rate of speed--112 mph to be precise.
Smith activated his emergency lights and pulled Hazelrig over. When the officer approached the vehicle, he detected a strong odor of alcohol.
Hazelrig failed several field sobriety tests and then refused to take a breath test.
The same Officer Smith who hit Sundeep Caplash apparently also has encountered Chip Hazelrig. Is that quite the coincidence? Maybe. What could it mean? I don't know.
But if I were a member of the Caplash family, I would not assume that anything the Mountain Brook PD tells me is true. The department's handling of the investigation shows that it is not to be trusted.
Here is a video about a tribute to Sundeep Caplash from fellow runners. A good man is gone, leaving behind his wife, Nitu, and two young children. Vijay Caplash, Sundeep's father, is a Birmingham physician. The Caplash family--and the public--deserve to know what really happened: