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New Hampshire man ordered held without bail in deaths of Waltham police officer, utility worker

Peter Simon, with several visible facial lacerations, was arraigned in Waltham District Court in the traffic deaths of Waltham police officer Paul Tracey and a National Grid worker.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

WALTHAM — When a Ford pickup truck began to pull off Totten Pond Road late Wednesday afternoon, the driver of the Jeep behind it casually drove around. But the truck swerved back into the road, seemingly making a U-turn before colliding with the Jeep, and then hurtled down Totten Pond toward some flashing lights and orange construction signs.

Behind the wheel, authorities said, was Peter J. Simon, a New Hampshire man who twice previously had been involved in car chases with police, including one in 2009 in which he nearly hit a state police trooper and was ordered to spend years in a psychiatric hospital. And with that abrupt move on Totten Pond Road Wednesday, Simon allegedly unleashed a cascade of mayhem that claimed two lives and set off yet another car chase that ended in a crash.

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As the afternoon light faded to dusk, Simon veered directly into a roadside work site, authorities said, killing Waltham police Officer Paul Tracey and Roderick Jackson, a National Grid worker.

On Thursday, Simon, 54, appeared in a courtroom filled with somber police to face a host of charges, including two counts of manslaughter. With scrapes on his left cheek and above his left eye, Simon stared ahead blankly as the charges were read aloud. He pleaded not guilty and was ordered held without bail.

In Waltham District Court, prosecutor Christopher Tarrant said Simon was heading east on Totten Pond Road around 4:15 p.m. when he allegedly “veered his vehicle to the right and then suddenly to the left in an apparent attempt to make a U-turn.”

In doing so, Simon cut off the Jeep Wrangler, which hit the pickup truck on the driver’s side, causing it to “rise up off of two wheels and then slam back down,” Tarrant said.

Simon kept going east “in an apparent attempt to flee the scene of that crash,” Tarrant said. After he plowed into the National Grid worksite and hit Jackson and Tracey, Tarrant said, Simon ran from his truck to a nearby home and banged on the front door.

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Waltham Police Officer Paul Tracey, left, and National Grid worker Roderick Jackson, right, were killed in Waltham on Dec 6. Facebook/Family Photo

A police report said Simon was “possibly saying ‘police are going to kill me’ ” when he was on the front steps of the home.

When a police officer approached, Simon “turned on the officer brandishing a knife, and with that knife entered the officer’s cruiser and essentially stole the cruiser and led the police on another high-speed chase,” Tarrant said.

Simon ultimately crashed the cruiser and was placed into custody. Tracey and Jackson died at area hospitals.

Tracey, 58, was a veteran police officer credited with saving the lives of two people during his career, a father and friend known for his laughter and compassion. Jackson, 36, was a gas operations technician for National Grid who took on extra duties and built strong friendships with his co-workers.

After the court hearing, Jim Tracey recalled his brother as a “tremendous husband, father, uncle, and brother, and loved by everybody in the community.”

“Anybody who knew him, his laughter, his compassion — it will be missed,” he said.

Jackson’s brother, Manuel Asprilla-Hassan, said he had spoken with him earlier in the day about going to the Rose Bowl in California in the new year.

“This is a nightmare that I’m living in,” he said outside the courthouse. “I woke up, and what just happened? I can’t even explain the story to anybody. People ask me what happened, I can’t even explain it.”

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An overflow crowd of families, police, and utility workers filled the court.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Simon is being represented by the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state’s public defender agency. In a brief statement, spokesperson Robert McGovern called the crash “a tragedy for everyone involved.”

“Mr. Simon is entitled to the presumption of innocence, and since we are in the early stages of this case, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time,” McGovern said.

In addition to the manslaughter charges, Simon was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, armed robbery, driving without a license, and multiple motor vehicle violations, according to legal filings.

He is due to return to Waltham District Court on Dec. 14.

The accusations are similar to incidents in in Keene, N.H., in 2009 and in Franklin, N.H., in 2016. In both instances, Simon was involved in a minor crash but responded by leading police on a furious chase that ended only when he crashed the vehicle and ran away before being taken into custody, according to court records and news accounts.

The Keene Sentinel reported Thursday that Simon was involved in the 2009 incident, in which he was spotted driving a pickup truck the wrong way on Route 12. During the police chase, a New Hampshire trooper fired at the truck before Simon crashed into a bus, seriously injuring a passenger, according to the newspaper and court documents. Simon ran away but was captured after police used a Taser on him multiple times, witnesses told the newspaper.

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According to court records, Simon pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and in 2011 was sentenced to spend five years in a psychiatric unit. That year, Simon’s lawyer told the Brattleboro Reformer that Simon was diagnosed with disassociative disorder, had a history of panic attacks, and had recently stopped taking prescribed medications.

People embraced before the arraignment.Lane Turner/Globe Staff
An overflow crowd of families, police, and utility workers filled the court.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

In 2016, Simon was sent to prison after he threatened to kill two people and led police on a chase in Franklin in which he crashed his car and was captured after running away, according to court records.

One of the people Simon threatened in that incident, who asked not to be named because of concerns about her personal safety, said she has followed the coverage of the deaths in Waltham and expressed frustration that Simon had allegedly hurt someone again, this time fatally.

“He’s a sociopath. There is nothing there,” she said. “If they had just locked him away and did not let him play the mental health card, people would be alive. That’s my personal opinion. . . . I just hope they never let him out.”

According to court records, Simon was sentenced to a maximum of four years in state prison. He completed his sentence and was released in 2020, according to the New Hampshire Department of Correction.

National Grid said Jackson, a Cambridge resident, joined the company in 2021 as a gas operations technician.

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“He was a highly respected, talented, and selfless teammate who worked extremely hard, took on extra duties, and had built strong friendships with members on his team,” the utility said.

The two other employees who were injured have been released from the hospital, officials said.

Tracey, who had worked for the police department for 28 years, was married to Kristen P. Tracey, the school resource officer at Waltham High School, and had two children, according to officials and social media postings by the department.

In 2018, Tracey, along with his relatives, was credited with saving a woman who had overdosed on drugs at a Yarmouth beach resort by providing first aid until paramedics arrived and delivered a dose of Narcan to the woman, the Cape Cod Times reported.

Amanda Gokee and Jeremy C. Fox of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Talia Lissauer contributed to this report.


John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him @JREbosglobe. Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.