As he campaigns for the Republican nomination for governor, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung is speaking out publicly about a fatal car accident from his past.
“It’s been a painful experience in my life that has nothing to do with politics … It’s something I’ve lived with all my life, and will continue to live with for the rest of my life,” said Fung, surrounded by members of the media at Chapel Grille in Cranston on Monday afternoon.
“I wanted to get the truth out there and all the facts out there to the voters of the state of Rhode Island, because as I’m asking for their support … I feel that they need to know everything, because your life becomes an open book.”
Fung made the disclosure in a Monday email to supporters and through an interview he requested with the Providence Journal, describing the circumstances surrounding the February 1989 crash on Route 95 that killed 41-year-old Pawtucket resident James W. Skipper.
At one point during Monday’s media event, Fung became visibly emotional and briefly left the room before returning.
In a brief statement and while answering several questions, the mayor reiterated points made in the Journal story and through his email. He stressed that neither alcohol nor drugs played any role in the crash, that the initial charge of driving to endanger, death resulted was ultimately dismissed, and that he has not sought to hide the matter from anyone.
“It’s something that I’ve talked about, nothing that I’ve hidden,” he said. “Anyone that has asked, I’ve always been forthcoming … It’s very personal and very painful for myself, but I’ve also worried about [Skipper’s] family … I didn’t want to drudge up old memories.”
Fung said when he was running for Cranston City Council in 2002, he disclosed the details of the crash through a questionnaire and follow-up discussion with the Journal, but nothing was published at that time. He said the newspaper’s decision not to move ahead with the story was its own, and that he did not request that it be withheld.
“It wouldn’t do that,” he said.
The crash that killed Skipper occurred just before 9 a.m. on the Friday morning in question. In Fung’s telling, he had traveled back to Rhode Island from the University of New Haven, where he was an 18-year-old freshman just a few days shy of his 19th birthday, to help at his parents’ restaurant for the weekend.
He had first gone to a cousin’s apartment in East Providence, but found no one was home. He then got back on Route 195 to head to Cranston, where his parents lived.
While on the stretch of Route 95 that parallels Doric Avenue, according to Fung’s telling, “I lost consciousness.”
“The crash kind of woke me up,” he said.
Once he came to and stopped his car, Fung said, he stepped out of the vehicle and saw a man’s body in the road.
“I was just in shock,” he said.
Police and emergency personnel responded to the scene, and Fung said he was placed in the front seat of a State Police cruiser and taken to the Lincoln barracks. He said he broke down when he heard over the police radio that the man he hit was dead.
Fung said he was arrested and charged, and was released by a bail commissioner that night. Through his parents’ attorney, he said he was referred legal representation.
Fung said he never had to appear in court, and that he remembers his attorney telling him a grand jury had declined to indict him on the driving to endanger charge. He said he does not recall speaking to police investigators.
In terms of what led him to lose consciousness, Fung said a potential explanation is a thyroid issue he experienced while a senior in high school. One morning, he said, he collapsed after he woke up, feeling numbness and tingling in his limbs.
“It was a very scary experience,” he said.
Fung said he subsequently visited a doctor and was found to have very low potassium levels, and was treated with iodine for his thyroid. He said he has not subsequently experienced any similar episodes involving loss of consciousness.
“I really am not sure what caused me to lose consciousness on that day … I’m answering the best that I can,” he said.
Fung said when he was a law student, he spoke with a supervisor about the fatal crash when the charge against him came up during a background check for an internship with the state’s Department of Corrections. On the advice of the supervisor, he subsequently took steps to have his record expunged. He said he also shared the story when he took the bar exam in Rhode Island.
Fung said his decision to publicly discuss the matter now came after two supporters approached him with questions regarding whether he had ever been involved in a fatal car accident. Their questions, he said, included inquiries about the possible involvement of substances.
“It kind of threw me, because there was never any alcohol or drugs,” he said.
Asked if he felt there may have been political motivations on the part of anyone circulating information or misinformation about the crash, Fung replied, “I can’t speculate.”
A former prosecutor, Fung said he does not recall prosecuting any cases involving the same charge he once faced because he worked in other areas of the law.
Skipper’s sister, Joyce Strange of New Brunswick, Maine, told the Journal the loss of her brother – who had stopped in the breakdown lane that February morning to change a tire – had been “completely devastating.”
She said her parents settled out of court in the matter – for $115,000, according to documents Fung provided to the Journal.
Strange has also told media outlets she harbors no ill feelings toward Fung, acknowledging the crash was an accident and urging that he be forgiven.
“People should not hold it against him,” Strange told the Journal. “He’s gone through hell all these years.”
Relayed those comments Monday and asked to respond, Fung again become visibly emotional.
“I am certainly grateful for their [the family’s] understanding,” he said, adding that he plans to reach out to Strange “at the appropriate time” through what will remain a “private and personal” conversation.
“God knows why my life was spared that day and someone else’s was taken,” Fung said.
The mayor did say the accident led him to make a positive impact through service.
“It’s a part of me, a part of who I am, and part also of why I’ve dedicated myself to helping people,” he said.