This case involved the August 2015 death of Missouri State Trooper James Bava who died when he was involved in a one vehicle crash on rural State Highway FF in Audrain County. Bava was raised in St. Charles County.
On the morning of August 28, 2015, twenty-three year old Serghei Comerzan was operating his motorcycle at an extremely high rate of speed on rural State Highway FF in Audrain County, Missouri when he passed Trooper Bava who was travelling in the opposite direction. Trooper Bava radioed his dispatch that he was going to attempt to stop the motorcycle, turned his vehicle around and began his attempt to catch up with Comerzan. This highway, like many rural state highways, is a hilly two lane roadway. People who live or travel Highway FF, referred to the roadway as “Death Road” which is what it proved to be for Trooper Bava. His vehicle left the roadway, struck a tree and burst into flames, instantly killing the Trooper.
The Prosecutor’s office in Audrain County and criminally charged alleging that Comerzan knew he was being pursued by Trooper Bava and in his actions of failing to stop, negligently caused the death of Trooper Bava.
Missouri State statute 565.024 states:
A person commits the crime of involuntary manslaughter in the first degree if he or she: (1) Recklessly causes the death of another person; or (the other subcategories deal with being intoxicated).
Serghei Comerzan was charged originally with second degree murder and the first trial in 2017 ended in a hung jury. The second trial was moved on a change of venue to St. Charles County. At the beginning of jury selection at the retrial in March of this year, Prosecutors elected to reduce the charge from second degree murder to negligent manslaughter. That trial ended in an acquittal of Comerzan on March 2, 2018.
Trooper Bava was only 25 years old. He was appointed to the Highway Patrol in 2013 and had been assigned to Audrain County for 1 1/2 years. He began the law enforcement academy in July 2013 and field training in January 2015.
News sources stated that Trooper Bava was travelling westbound on Highway FF, described by another trooper as “hilly, curvy and dangerous”. Comerzan was traveling eastbound, passed the trooper’s patrol car and continued on, seeing the taillights in his rear view mirror. Trooper Bava would have had to complete a three-point turn and begin his attempt to stop the motorcycle that was traveling at a extremely high rate of speed . Another witness from a krcqtv.com report stated that when he called 911 to report Trooper Bava’s crash, he estimated he had seen the motorcycle 30-40 seconds before he heard the crash. There would have been approximately a mile distance between Comerzan’s motorcycle and Trooper Bava’s patrol vehicle.
An article in the Columbia Tribune from June 17, 2017 states “During the trial last month, according to local media reports, Bava was going about 140 mph before he crashed and had been speeding in his patrol car hours before the fatal wreck.”
In still another article on 13KRCG:
Sgt. Paul Meyers testified Comerzan would had to have been traveling 116 mph between the two western hill crests for Bava to be out of sight. He said according to studies and online searches, Comerzan’s motorcyle reaches top speed at 160 mph. Meyers also testified Bava and Comerzan were likely within each other’s field of view for about seven seconds before approaching one of the hill crests on FF.
An article on ABC17news.com explained that through investigation, Comerzan was identified by his motorcycle, “a black and white crotch rocket”. Another article stated that through witness statements, the investigators were able to identify Comerzan. Comerzan initially denied having been on Highway FF that morning, but later changed his story and admitted being there and seeing Trooper Bava. ABC17 news reported:
(Highway) Patrol Sergeant Doug McPike, who not only is a family friend of Comerzan, but Bava’s supervisor, testified in Comerza’s first trial last May, which ended in a mistrial.
When McPike learned Comerzan was a person of interest in the case, he said he “didn’t want to believe he was involved” at first. Comerzan spent a lot of time growing up with McPike’s family, including his son. The first time Comerzan rode a motorcycle was with the McPike family. The two hadn’t really seen each other in years before the crash.
McPike interviewed Comerzan the night of the crash but looking back, said he wished he hadn’t. He said while he didn’t want to believe Comerzan was involved initially, he now fully believes Comerzan was there. Comerzan initially lied to McPike about his route, telling him in the interview that he didn’t take Route FF. McPike told jurors that he sensed Comerzan was lying at the time.
He said he cared and still does care for both Bava and Comerzan.
“I was feeling a lot of things that night,” said McPike. “I had emotions you can’t even imagine. It’s a pretty lonely place.”
McPike spent about ninety minutes on the stand getting questioned by the state and the defense about his relationship with both Bava and Comerzan, as well as the interview he had with Comerzan that night.
KRCGTV.com reported that forensic analysis of Comerzan’s phone revealed text messages between him and another person during the afternoon after the crash and Comerzan’s texts were “that’s crazy man, no trooper chased me,” while the other read, “crazy, who would go that fast?” These texts leads one to believe that Comerzan didn’t know Trooper Bava had been attempting to catch up with him or that he knew about forensic cell phone technology and was already in the guilty mindset of covering up his actions.
ABC17 news also reported that Chris See, a coworker of Comerzan’s told jurors that he and Comerzan were working together on a construction site in Columbia on the same day Trooper James Bava died: Friday, Aug. 28, 2015.
After they finished work in the early afternoon, See said the two had lunch and worked out at Gold’s Gym in Columbia. Then they dropped Comerzan’s motorcycle off at See’s house in Millersburg so he could paint it.
Prosecutor Scott Fox wanted to know if the two had already made plans for Comerzan to drop the bike at his home. See said they had planned on doing it that weekend but he didn’t remember who brought up bringing the motorcycle to his place on Friday.
During cross examination, jurors saw pictures of a text message conversation between Comerzan and See from Aug. 17 where Comerzan asked him to paint his bike.
I had a debate with my son, who is also a police officer. His take on the event was that Trooper Bava had a duty to attempt to stop the motorcycle to keep the motorcyclist from endangering himself and others. My comment to my son was “the first rule is to arrive safely”. They always drilled into our heads that we would be no good to anyone if we wrecked our car before we got to the call.
A woman who responded to the Blue Lives Matter Facebook post on the acquittal of Comerzan said so eloquently about the trial:
I support law enforcement 100%, my husband was a sheriffs deputy and I worked for the court system. … We need to also remember that the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt lies with the prosecution. They were unable to meet that threshold not once but twice… Our judicial system was created to allow your peers to hear the evidence against you, listen to any and all arguments made by counsel, any expert testimony and witnesses and then make a unanimous decision as to your innocence or guilt. The jury does not make any legal decisions. Interpretation of the law is for the judge to decide. The jury is given instructions and are able to ask questions if the judge finds them to be unbiased. If there was a failure here, it lies with the prosecutions inability to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the same system I would depend on if my husband had shot and killed someone in the line of duty. If I have to believe in its ability to provide our law enforcement officers a fair and impartial trial, I have to believe in its ability to offer the same if the situation is reversed as it is in this case.
My heart breaks for the Bava family and although Trooper Bava’s death is a devastating loss to his loved ones, friends and colleagues, I believe that Trooper Bava chose a dangerous action that morning which ultimately cost him his life and a just verdict was rendered in this case.