by Ben Taylor
Peace Corps Director accused of killing Tanzanian woman in drunk driving incident
In a case that has echoes of the killing of Harry Dunn in the UK, a senior American Peace Corps employee in Tanzania is reported as having killed a mother of three and injured two others in a series of car crashes that began after he left a bar where he had been drinking and brought a sex worker back to his home. The incident took place on the Msasani Peninsula on August 24, 2019.
The woman killed was 47-year-old Rabia Issa, a street vendor. She was gathering firewood around dawn at the roadside stand where she sold fried cassava and other foods when she was struck by a small SUV.
Reports in the newspaper USA Today identified the driver as John M. Peterson, then the 65-year-old director of management and operations for the Peace Corps in Tanzania. The newspaper provided further details of the case, citing a brief account of the incident in a report by the Peace Corps Inspector General.
According to these reports, Mr Peterson had been drinking when his vehicle struck a pedestrian at around 5am. He drove off at high speed, pursued by angry motorcycle drivers. In the chase, his vehicle then struck Ms Issa, before eventually coming to halt after colliding with a pole.
Mr Peterson was apprehended by the police, refused a breathalyser test, and was released to enable him to seek medical attention. The inspector general’s report says staff from the US Embassy and the Peace Corps then arranged for his speedy departure from Tanzania, which happened so quickly that local authorities were unable to charge him first. The U.S. government deemed it a medically necessary evacuation. Within a day of Issa’s death, Peterson was on a flight back to the United States.
Issa’s family told the newspaper they believe Peterson was released by police in order to cover up what had happened. A reporter visited the police station but found no record of the incident in the station’s ledger, and officers there declined to answer questions.
The case bears significant resemblance to that of Harry Dunn, killed in a road crash outside the US military base RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire, also in 2019, just three days after the fatal incident in Dar es Salaam. In that case, the US citizen Anne Sacoolas is accused of being responsible for the death, and left the country a few days later, citing diplomatic immunity.
Where the two cases diverge, however, is in the efforts to pursue accountability. Following much media coverage and diplomatic wrangling, the US citizen Anne Sacoolas is due to face criminal proceedings in the UK later this year, charged with causing the death by dangerous driving. The case in Tanzania has received very little media, diplomatic or police attention.
The US Department of Justice declined to prosecute Peterson, saying it lacked jurisdiction, according to the inspector general. A spokeswoman for the Peace Corps, in a statement, told USA Today that shortly after the incident, the agency placed Peterson on administrative leave and suspended his security clearance, pending an investigation.
Tanzanian authorities could charge him in absentia and issue warrants for his arrest with Interpol. Even if the US authorities decline an extradition request, Peterson could be effectively prevented from traveling internationally for fear of arrest.