Fatality Accident Raises Questions About State Law

A fatal motor vehicle accident in Wagoner County, Oklahoma has raised questions about a state statute permitting game wardens to operate state owned or leased vehicles on a public highway at night without headlights.

Alan Hogue died from injuries sustained on Thursday after his motorcycle collided with a truck driven by game warden Benjamin Haff. Neither driver had their headlamps activated, and Hogue was apparently driving left of center. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol (“OHP”) investigated the accident, but it did not indicate what Haff was doing before the collision, if he saw Hogue, or whether Haff was driving while distracted.

Despite the collision, the OHP concluded that Haff complied with a state statute permitting game wardens to operate vehicles at night on public roads without headlights.

Although the statute is designed to assist law enforcement in the apprehension of poachers, it does not require the exercise of any discretion to use this power relative to public safety, nor does it permit game wardens to operate vehicles while distracted, a circumstance the OHP investigation did not address.

The Oklahoma Legislature should review this statute to determine if such a broad application strikes the proper balance between wildlife regulation and public safety.