Anger on a Dark Road

Springs couple faces road rage, harassment charges

       A Springs man was arrested on the morning of Christmas Eve two weeks after what East Hampton Town police called a prolonged road-rage incident. It was the second time in 15 months that Jefferson D. Eames had been arrested on charges associated with road rage. This time, his wife was arrested as well, on a charge of harassment, though she was not held.

       Meantime, the other driver involved in the first incident has asked whether ethnicity was the reason the district attorney’s office dropped that case.

       Mr. Eames, 45, who was arraigned on Christmas Eve in East Hampton Town Justice Court before Justice Lisa R. Rana, pleaded not guilty to three new charges: reckless driving and reckless endangerment of property, both misdemeanors, and harassment, a violation. Melissa Eames, his wife, will be arraigned on Jan. 8.

       In a phone interview on Sunday, Mr. Eames said it was he who was the true victim in both cases. “I don’t feel that I did anything wrong,” he said. “My lesson is, if somebody is harassing me, I just have to call the police. It is a race to the police.”

       The recent incident took place at night, over the course of about an hour, police said. Mr. Eames, driving a 2014 white Chevrolet pickup truck with a trailer attached, allegedly forced a Volkswagen off the road on Neck Path in Springs.

       The Volkswagen’s driver, Kate Grant, is the wife of an East Hampton Town police officer, Christopher Botta. She was westbound on Neck Path at about 6:15, she told police, when she saw “a vehicle facing me, with its high beams on. I started to slow down because I really couldn’t see . . . I flashed my high beams two or three times to alert the other driver that his high beams were on.”

       Both drivers said Mr. Eames was backing his trailer onto his property at the time. Mr. Eames explained Sunday that backing a long trailer into a driveway was an involved process. “People need to be patient.”

       His wife, according to Ms. Grant’s statement, was in the roadway, shouting “Stop, stop!” at Ms. Grant, who said she did stop. Once the trailer was backed in, she stated, she began to drive on, past the Eameses’ driveway, when Ms. Eames “began shouting again, saying something to the effect of ‘What the fuck is your problem?’”

       “I honked my horn once,” she said.

       According to Ms. Grant, Mr. Eames then pulled back out of his driveway, trailer still attached to the truck.

       “I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the white pickup truck start to chase my car down the road,” she told police, until it passed her by crossing  into the eastbound lane, “almost sideswiping me. He forced me off the road into the grass.”

       The front of the truck was angled in on the shoulder of the road, preventing her from fronting out, her statement says. At that point, she told police, Ms. Eames pulled in directly behind her in an S.U.V. “I was boxed in.”

       Ms. Grant said she exchanged obscenities with the couple. Mr. Eames, according to Ms. Grant, then said, “I’m going to call the fucking cops.” Ms. Grant answered, “No, I will. My husband is a cop.”

       Ms. Eames left, driving back toward her house. Mr. Eames got in the truck and drove west, Ms. Grant said, looking for a place to turn around.

       She tried and failed to call her husband. “I was still on the side of the road, sitting in my car, because I was so frightened and shaking,” she said. She saw the truck coming back toward her. “He slowed to a stop and rolled down the driver’s-side window. He was literally hanging out of the window, yelling at me. ‘I thought you said your husband was a cop,’ ” she said Mr. Eames shouted, followed by more obscenities, including misogynistic slurs, concluding, she said, with “Go back to your fucking country.” Ms. Grant, who was born in England, is white. She has dark hair and an English accent, according to a police source.

       Ms. Eames returned as well, and the couple then unleashed another volley of obscenities, according to Ms. Grant.

       When she was finally able to drive away, she returned home and called police.

       “She was flashing her high beams and honking her horn, and that’s what started me off on this whole thing,” Mr. Eames said in a statement to police.

       Mr. Eames, who disputes parts of the police version of events, complained on Sunday that he was never read his Miranda rights before being arrested, and that the police staked out his house on Christmas Eve morning. “What did they think, I was going to go to Mexico?”

       His earlier arrest came on Oct. 2, 2012, following an incident a week before in which, police said, he used his pickup truck, then a black Chevrolet with red lettering, to chase another vehicle. He allegedly showed its driver a badge, while screaming obscenities, including ethnic epithets. The other driver, Jorge Garcia, told police he believed Mr. Eames to be a police officer.

       Mr. Eames was charged with a misdemeanor hate crime: aggravated harassment based on race, as well as impersonating a police officer. The arresting officer  recovered the badge.

       Mr. Eames claimed Mr. Garcia had been tailgating him. He said on Sunday that drivers sometimes get angry at him because he stays below the speed limit. “I set my cruise control on 30,” he said.

       The earlier case was dismissed this past August. The reasons behind the dismissal are not clear, the court file on the case having been sealed.

       Johana Garcia, Mr. Garcia’s wife, was surprised to hear that the charges  had been dropped. “If things happen, you want to do the right thing, and hope for the courts to do their job, to back you up, but then nothing happens,” she said Saturday. “I don’t know. Is it because we are Spanish?”

       Ms. Garcia is an American citizen, born in Columbia. Her husband, who is from Mexico, is on the path to citizenship. They have two daughters, both born here. “I hope [Ms. Grant] is a white person,” Ms. Garcia said upon hearing of the new charges against Mr. Eames. “If she is not Spanish, something will get done.”           

       Mr. Garcia said that a Maria Thomas, a victim’s advocate from District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office, was the only person who ever spoke to him about the Oct. 2 incident, a month after it happened. Mr. Eames was scheduled to be in court that afternoon. Mr. Garcia was told he would be contacted later either by mail or phone, but, he said, he never heard from the D.A.’s office again. “Whatever made them drop that case, I hope they don’t drop it again. It is just not right,” he said.

       He was granted an order of protection against Mr. Eames, but he claimed Saturday that Mr. Eames has occasionally passed him since on the road, hanging out of his truck window, making rude gestures and filming him with his cellphone. 

       Mr. Eames’s attorney said early this year that Mr. Garcia was not a reliable witness because he had made similar charges in the past. Mr. Garcia took umbrage with that. “If I called the police every time I experienced racism, the police would be here every day,” he said.

       Mr. Eames, for his part, said he had many Latino friends, and that the charges of racism were ridiculous.