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Demise of 5 cherished ducks brings a trail of human turmoil

State Representative David Campbell was the focus of an attorney general report after running over the ducks.

State Representative David Campbell was the focus of an attorney general report after running over the ducks.

At the moment the five ducks were run over and killed by a New Hampshire state representative, they were doing exactly what they are known for in Nashua: greeting guests at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Then the car, driven by David Campbell, a state representative from Nashua who had been inside the hotel bar having dinner and drinks, came through the drop-off area, going the wrong direction and traveling about 15 miles per hour, a police report would later note. As the car ran over the flock, there was a “a scream, a thump, and a commotion,” one witness said.

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What followed during the next few months is a complicated saga that has produced more questions than answers. It is all laid out in a complex 14-page report issued by the New Hampshire attorney general’s office Thursday.

Elements read like a mystery novel — from an angry confrontation (with an airline pilot who had befriended the ducks), to an elusive suspect, to a late-night ride with a friend who happened to be a police commissioner.

On Wednesday, the day before the report was issued, Campbell, 56, announced he would not seek reelection. Thomas Pappas, a Nashua police commissioner, resigned from the police commission in February.

The story begins just before Christmas last year, when the ducks — who live in a pond in front of the hotel’s entrance that stays thawed in winter thanks to runoff from the indoor pool — had just welcomed a van arriving with a Southwest Airlines flight crew. Airline crews look forward to seeing the ducks, the van’s driver told investigators; they often save snacks from the flight to feed them.

That’s when Campbell, who had been at a holiday party with a group of former legislators before joining friends for dinner and drinks at the hotel’s bar, drove over the flock, according to the report. He told police he had double tapped his brakes to slow down, but his foot slipped, causing him to hit the gas pedal by mistake, the report said.

Enter a Southwest pilot named James Murphy. He chased Campbell’s car down the driveway to take a photo of its license plate. There the two had a confrontation, during which Campbell allegedly told Murphy that the ducks “should have moved,” according to the report. Campbell’s attorney, Gerald R. Prunier, in a statement Thursday, said Murphy threatened Campbell, saying, “I’m going to make you hurt like the ducks.”

Murphy observed “Campbell’s gait and odor of alcohol,” according to the report, and yelled to hotel staff to call police. Murphy said Campbell asked him not to call police and said something about how it would ruin his reputation, the report said. Campbell told police that it was Murphy who said he was going to ruin his career after he saw his House of Representatives license plate.

This week, when Campbell announced he would not seek reelection after 14 years in the legislature, he told several media outlets that it had nothing to do with the duck incident. He had previously pleaded no contest to a charge of violating a state statute related to the taking of water fowl and paid a $695 fine.

But what eventually prompted an investigation by the state attorney general was not the killing of the ducks, but what happened afterward.

After the confrontation between Murphy and Campbell, Campbell parked his car in the hotel lot and went back inside. But when police arrived, Campbell was nowhere to be found. According to the report, he had gone next door to his office building and called an old friend for a ride — Pappas, who was the chairman of the Nashua Police Commission.

Pappas said he did not know why Campbell needed a ride, but “when a friend asks for a ride, he instinctively says yes,” according to the report.

In the car, Campbell told Pappas what had occurred. Pappas would later tell investigators he was “confronted with a conflict.” He eventually dropped Campbell at the apartment of a “lady friend,” according the the report. Then Pappas went home and called police, telling police that Campbell was at a friend’s house.

It was seven days before Nashua police spoke with Campbell in person.

When he finally spoke with an officer, Campbell said he had two drinks at dinner but was not intoxicated. The attorney general’s report, based on interviews with hotel staff, determined that he drank a glass of wine and later a glass of Patron tequila.

The report, which says Campbell declined to cooperate with the inquiry, revealed thatinvestigators were considering bringing a charge of reckless operation against the legislator, as well as charges against Pappas, including for “official oppression” and hindering apprehension.

But the attorney general concluded that it was not viable to bring a charge of reckless driving, based on the width of the driveway, Campbell’s speed, and the position of a key witness. Campbell, who said he had been going to the hotel for more than 23 years, said he did not know the drop-off area was a one-way road but “was quick to point out that he knows there are signs that say do not feed the ducks,” the report said.

No charges were brought against Pappas, though the report did note that “while Campbell’s and Pappas’s version of the events in many regards are simply not credible, their actions do not give rise to criminal violations.”

Pappas resigned in February. On Thursday, he declined to be interviewed but issued a statement through his attorney saying he was heartened by news of the report, and again apologized to the Nashua police and public for “any disruption caused by my part in the events of December 23, 2013, which I deeply regret.”

Campbell also declined to be interviewed when reached by a Globe reporter. But his attorney, Gerald R. Prunier, issued a scathing statement, accusing the attorney general of an “exhausting and unproductive fishing expedition into Mr. Campbell’s personal life.”

The statement also lashed out at the pilot, Murphy, accusing him of feeding the ducks even though signs forbid it. The reason Campbell left the hotel, the statement said, was that he feared a physical altercation.

“The evidence shows that Mr. Campbell was not impaired by alcohol, but that he was very upset about running over the ducks, and concerned for his safety that evening,” Prunier said in the statement.

When he announced he would not seek reelection to the Legislature, Campbell said the decision had nothing to do with the incident — known locally as “Duckgate” — contending that the volunteer job took too heavy a toll on his law practice.

Billy Baker can be reached at billybaker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker
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