On Dec. 7, 2009, New York State Police narcotics investigator Richard O’Brien fell off a ladder while fixing his mother’s roof.
He lived for only three more hours after the fall — but in that brief time, fellow troopers tried to have him retired on disability.
Now, Stephanie O’Brien, his widow, is fighting in court, saying a faulty fax machine and a measly seven minutes mean she and the couple’s daughter would get a $342,000 death payout — rather than lifetime benefits that could total in the millions.
Fellow troopers rushed to the emergency room at St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital in Newburgh, where O’Brien, 42, lay mortally injured and unconscious following his off-duty repair accident at 3:34 p.m. They immediately asked State Police Headquarters in Albany to send retirement forms — though it took the ER’s faulty fax machine several tries to receive them, causing the first in a series of delays.
The troopers helped O’Brien’s wife fill them out.
The form she signed checked off a payment option in which Richard would get 75 percent of his $90,000 salary for life. If he died, his beneficiary, Stephanie, would receive the same $67,500-a-year for life.
It then took 10 tries — an 18-minute delay — to fax the papers back to a State Police supervisor, who finally received them at 6:19 p.m.The supervisor took 11 minutes to review the application and formally file it by fax to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli at 6:31 p.m.
Meanwhile, O’Brien had died at 6:24 p.m.
At that point, the 14-year police veteran became ineligible for retirement. The state Comptroller’s Office offered Stephanie a death benefit — three times O’Brien’s last 12 months of pay. But the disability benefits could have amounted to much more — $3.3 million if Stephanie, now 36, lives to age 86.
Of course it’s a sad story, and it’s understandable that his fellow cops would want to help his widow and child, but in any other circumstance this would be fraud, and prosecutors would be involved. Unless, of course, it happened in Greenwich’s civil service ranks, where this goes on all the time.