The former schoolteacher had expressed bitterness about the press coverage of his arrest.
By SHERRI L. SHAULIS
and PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITERS
CAMPBELL -- Peter A. Polando graduated from Youngstown Municipal Court's drug court Friday, and he died Sunday after what police said was an aborted drug buy and high-speed chase.
Polando, 48, of Noel Drive, was pronounced dead at the scene of an accident at 1 a.m. Sunday on Wilson Avenue, at Fairview Avenue and Coitsville Road.
Polando suffered massive head injuries after his 1996 gold four-door Oldsmobile crashed into a utility pole, shearing it in two, and came to rest against the stone wall in front of a residence.
According to reports, officers spotted Polando's vehicle parked in front of the Kirwan Homes on Monroe Street early Sunday with a group of people gathered around the driver's window. Reports said the scene looked like "a drug transaction in progress."
Police approached Poland's car, and he backed it up, striking a parked vehicle. He then sped off south on Monroe.
Failed to make curve
Reaching speeds of more than 65 mph, Polando led police from Monroe to Murray Street to Madison Avenue to Wilson Avenue, where he headed west. Reports said that because of the high speed, Polando failed to make a bend and drove off the right side of the road, striking the pole and the wall.
Campbell firefighters removed Polando from the vehicle, and a coroner's investigator pronounced him dead. A search of the vehicle turned up two pieces of suspected crack cocaine, police said.
Polando was in Youngstown Municipal Court on Friday -- one of four graduates of Judge Robert A. Douglas Jr.'s drug court. The ceremony celebrated the first graduating class of the program the judge began last fall.
Polando told reporters he didn't want to be identified and didn't want his photograph taken. He expressed bitterness about the press coverage of his arrest, saying newspapers were sold at the expense of his addiction.
The community, Polando said Friday, would benefit from the drug court program. It allows substance abusers to avoid jail and attempt to kick their habit, whether it's alcohol or drugs.
Participants plead guilty to their drug offense, then enter the program. If they successfully complete the program designed for their individual needs, which takes 10 months or so, the charge is dismissed.
Judge Douglas was at a seminar and could not be reached.
City Prosecutor Dionne M. Almasy accepts candidate referrals from several sources, including police and defendants' attorneys. Almasy has the final say on who enters the program.
"I just found out," Almasy said this morning. "I'm a little shocked. He was such a nice person, had a gentle spirit. It shows addiction is such a powerful force in some people's lives and ultimately some people can't seem to overcome it."
Almasy said the situation demonstrates the need for drug court to address addiction. She said it won't be a success in every case.
Polando, a former Champion teacher, was arrested in August 2001 outside the Westlake Terrace apartment complex. Officers said they found a glass crack pipe in his pants pocket, and they had to use force to subdue him after he began flailing his arms and screaming.
Polando was quoted at the time as saying "I can't go to jail. I'm a schoolteacher," as he dropped to the ground and began to roll around.
Polando had taught fifth and seventh grades at Champion Middle School for five years. He didn't teach last year and had since resigned, according to the school district.
Officers from Struthers and Coitsville police departments, the Mahoning County Sheriff's Department and the Ohio State Highway Patrol assisted at the crash scene this morning.