Rabbi pleads guilty in traffic case

Aspen Daily News/December 16, 2009

A rabbi accused of hitting an unattended car in a parking lot and fleeing pleaded guilty to failure to report an accident in Pitkin County Court on Tuesday.

In exchange for Rabbi Menachem Mendel Mintz's plea, another citation that was issued, leaving the scene of an accident, was deferred for six months. If Mintz doesn't get in any legal trouble in that time, the leaving the scene of an accident citation will be dismissed. But the failure to report ticket will stick.

Failing to report an accident is a 12-point ticket that will be assessed against Mintz's driver's license. Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely also ordered him to pay court costs. Restitution in the case will be paid by his insurance company.

Since the time he was issued the tickets, Mintz, 34, has acknowledged all along that he accidentally hit a car in the Clark's Market parking lot on Oct. 22. But the rabbi, who operates the Jewish Resource Center Chabad of Aspen, insists he left a note on the car's windshield and that it must have blown away.

The owner of the car, Kurt Reichel, told police there was no note left on his vehicle. A witness to the accident, Rachel Scott, told police she saw Mintz get out of his van, mumble a few comments, get back in his van and moments later leave the scene of the accident, according to the police report. The police report stated: "Scott suspected the gentleman may not report the accident, so she stayed in the area to see if the driver would leave his contact information on the vehicle he had just hit. After witnessing the driver left without leaving any information, Scott left Clark's Market parking lot and came directly to the Aspen Police Department to make a report."

However, after the court hearing was over, Mintz's attorney, Chip McCrory, disputed the version of events outlined in the police report, saying he spoke with Scott who told him she did not observe Mintz from the time he hit the car to the time he left, as she at one point went to the post office, which is right next door.

Scott could not be reached for comment.

Mintz's brother supported the rabbi's claims, turning in a typed statement to authorities in which he said he was in Mintz's van when the accident occurred and that Mintz did leave a note on the vehicle he admits to damaging.

McCrory also addressed another inconsistency in the case. Mintz told the media that police never spoke to him about the accident. McCrory clarified Mintz had a brief conversation with Turner, who is a "community safety officer" for the police department, but whose title is not technically "police officer."

After his hearing, Mintz declined to comment on the record.

Because of his standing as a rabbi, Mintz's traffic case garnered plenty of attention in Aspen.

"Rabbis are people, and all people are held to the same ethical standards in Jewish tradition," said Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, a prominent New York-based author, lecturer and commentator. "Of course all public figures, especially those in positions of religious authority, must be especially mindful of the impact of their actions. But it's equally important for everyone else to exercise caution about putting such leaders on pedestals — focusing on the shortcomings of leaders is often an excuse for followers to avoid paying attention to their own."

Aspen Police Sgt. Dan Davis said hit-and-run accidents involving property damage occur "quite a bit." In many cases, he said, police discover motorists leave the scene of an accident because they get scared, or sometimes they just don't care. The result, he noted, can be especially hurtful to the owners of the damaged vehicles who often get stuck with the initial bill and, later, higher insurance premiums. As for failing to notify police of an accident, Davis reminds drivers that "you're supposed to notify the police any time you're in a motor vehicle accident."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.