After just months in her office, Vestal Town Supervisor Maria Sexton has been met with controversy after pulling over a wrong-way driver on Vestal Parkway.
According to Sexton, the incident occurred in late January while she was driving westbound on the Vestal Parkway heading to work. While commuting, she saw a motorist traveling in the wrong direction on the parkway toward oncoming traffic, causing cars to “[swerve]” around the vehicle to prevent an accident. To fulfill her official duties to “respond to all major incidents in Vestal and direct the emergency response,” Sexton was driving a vehicle equipped with emergency lights and sirens, previously owned by her predecessor.
When she approached the next intersection, Sexton flipped on the emergency lights of her car and temporarily blocked traffic. The motorist turned around and pulled over to the side of the road, allowing Sexton to approach the vehicle.
“I pulled up behind the vehicle and got out to check on the driver,” Sexton wrote in an email. “She immediately apologized and said that she was new to Vestal and had gotten confused. I told her that I saw her and was worried — something to that effect. I could see that she was fine to drive — no medical issues, intoxication, confusion, etc. — I introduced myself as [the] town supervisor, and I wished her a safe day.”
Sexton, who has 20 years of experience serving in the New York Police Department as an officer and sergeant, claimed her actions complied with the law and were necessary to prevent a head-on vehicle collision. Local officials, however, were divided over whether her decision to intervene was appropriate. Town Councilman Stephen Donnelly alleged that Sexton overstepped her authority by pulling over the motorist — an action reserved for active, licensed police officers. Donnelly added that Sexton might have violated federal law and that she should resign.
“[Sexton] abused her power by performing an illegal detention using an unmarked police vehicle for the title she gave herself of incident commander,” Donnelly wrote in an email. “The law clearly states that only licensed police officers are able to interrupt the civil rights of people through a detention. As elected officials, we are obligated and have a duty to the people we serve. My recommendation is that the supervisor resign to prevent further damage and liability, especially if she refuses to listen to the folks who are trying to help guide, given that she has no prior municipal experience.”
Donnelly said he felt compelled to report the incident to both the Broome County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney and that the state police are continuing to investigate the matter. Though the Vestal Police Department declined to comment, the department’s chief announced his retirement shortly after the incident.
Other elected officials praised Sexton, including Councilman Glenn Miller ‘78, who ran on Sexton’s “Real Democracy 4 Vestal” slate last November.
“It is my opinion that [Sexton] not only acted appropriately in the situation, but did so with the sole intent to be of service to the residents of Vestal and keep our streets safe,” Miller wrote in an email. “I applaud the actions she took and would have done so myself in the same situation. While one individual sees the act as something that could have legal implications, I see only a concerned town representative behaving in a way to protect the safety of the citizens first, then assist a citizen who could be in need of help. These are selfless acts that I would hope any citizen would do themselves.”
Critics, like Donnelly, argue that the supervisor’s power to handle town emergencies is a strictly administrative function — that it does not permit them to personally intervene and “[fight] the fire.” Sexton explained why she felt compelled to pull over the motorist traveling in the wrong direction.
“I was raised to help people,” Sexton wrote. “I couldn’t, in good conscience, allow people to get hurt if I am able to intervene to prevent it — safely and within the law.”