Crash charge weighed vs. deputy

The aftermath of fatal collision

[ Update mid-June — well the “verdict” is in and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has announced there will be no charges filed. Here is the azcentral news story. I am more aligned with columnist Robert’s thinking; than I am with Montini… though there is still an undeniable appearance of impropriety on County Attorney Montgomery’s part. In summary, Roberts points out that the prosector’s office lets anybody and everybody off the hook (except when impaired); Montini insists it’s simply political. I believe the city of Glendale certainly has enough evidence to charge Pearce with criminal speeding — if they choose to. That would be largely symbolic but would still require the defendant to appear before the court. ]

[ Update mid-May 2014; no word yet on criminal charge decision; The family of a Glendale man who died following a high-speed collision with a Maricopa County sheriff’s deputy has filed a claim totaling $5 million against the deputy, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the Sheriff’s Office and the county… Pearce’s unmarked vehicle was traveling 81 mph in a 40 mph zone… The family’s notice of claim alleges negligence, gross negligence and willful negligence on the part of Pearce for illegally driving at an excessive speed and without sirens or emergency lights” ]

81mph? No lights? No siren? This is completely reckless; not to mention going to cost Maricopa County taxpayers a huge bundle. I don’t even think I can imagine any legitimate scenario for ever driving that speed on city streets even in an emergency; but whatever, there was no emergency here whatsoever. 81MPH is 119 feet per second. Hooray for Glendale PD for recommending charges; the story implies charges might have been (or might still be) buried.

See this one for another deputy, from a different county, who also seems to like to speed; no lights; no sirens; likes to speed.

A Maricopa County sheriff’s deputy was driving at a rate more than twice the speed limit moments before his Chevrolet Tahoe T-boned a Nissan Cube in December, killing the 63-year-old driver. Now, three months after the (Dec 16, 2013) crash, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is being asked to weigh whether Deputy Sean Pearce should be charged with manslaughter in the death of Glendale resident John Harding. Glendale police recently asked County Attorney Bill Montgomery’s office to consider bringing the charge. Montgomery confirmed Wednesday that the case is under review. Pearce is the son of former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, who thew his support behind Montgomery’s 2010 bid to become county attorney. Russell Pearce also is a former high-ranking official with the Sheriff’s Office and a political ally of Sheriff Joe Arpaio….

Incident occurred Dec. 16, 2013 Pearce was driving northbound on 59th Avenue when he struck the Cube as it was turning left onto 59th Avenue from Hayward Avenue,

Sight Distance

Sight Distance is defined as the “length of road surface which a particular driver can see with an acceptable level of clarity. Sight distance plays an important role in geometric highway design because it establishes an acceptable design speed, based on a driver’s ability to visually identify and stop for a particular, unforeseen roadway hazard”. This deputy was driving far faster than the road’s design speed; he could have not possibly avoided colliding with, say, a pedestrian legally crossing the street at the intersection where he collided. There are crosswalks all along this road every couple of hundred feet — EVERY INTERSECTION HAS CROSSWALKS WHETHER THEY ARE MARKED OR NOT. A pedestrian crossing is just one of the unforeen hazards that Deputy Pearce might have encountered; and would not have been able to yield to.

This GM press release reports a police model 2013 Tahoe’s stopping distance from 60mph to be 134 feet, not including reaction time. From 81mph, the distance would be significantly longer; as distance increases geometrically with speed. Reaction time adds perhaps another 1 second, which is and additional 119 feet. So maybe 300+ feet all-in stopping distance.

It also mentions the top speed is 139mph so perhaps Deputy Pearce was actually driving in a restrained manner?

At a bare minimum, the deputy was speeding . As noted below, police officers normally enjoy exemptions from speeding, but only under certain conditions, none of which were met. This is “criminal” speeding, a reference to “Exceed(ing) the posted speed limit in a business or residential district by more than twenty miles per hour” §28-701.02.

Beyond criminal speeding, it seems apparent this was reckless (reckless driving); or even homicide charges, where “a person is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk”; which would lead to Manslaughter or the lesser charge of Negligent Homicide (“fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk”). Of course, as noted above, the county prosecutor declined any charge. The (Glendale) city prosecutor did bring a criminal speeding charge (see below, aftermath).

The Authorized Emergency Vehicle Law

Here is the law with exempts drivers of authorized emergency vehicles, under stipulated conditions, to be exempted from various normal traffic rules. The underlined passages explain why there can be no exemption for this deputy during this incident — 1) the suspected violator was the object of the deputy’s surveillance only, there was never a “pursuit” [though the story seems to have evolved into the suspect was “on the move”], 2) emergency lights were not used, 3) The deputy endangered life and property, 4) there was no siren in use, and 5) nothing in this section relieves the deputy’s obligation to use due care…

28-624. Authorized emergency vehicles

A. If an authorized emergency vehicle is driven in response to an emergency call, in pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of law or in response to but not on return from a fire alarm, the driver may exercise the privileges provided in this section subject to the conditions stated in this section.

B. If the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle is operating at least one lighted lamp displaying a red or red and blue light or lens visible under normal atmospheric conditions from a distance of five hundred feet to the front of the vehicle, the driver may:

1. Notwithstanding this chapter, park or stand.

2. Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as necessary for safe operation.

3. Exceed the prima facie speed limits if the driver does not endanger life or property.

4. Disregard laws or rules governing the direction of movement or turning in specified directions.

C. The exemptions authorized by this section for an authorized emergency vehicle apply only if the driver of the vehicle while in motion sounds an audible signal by bell, siren or exhaust whistle as reasonably necessary and if the vehicle is equipped with at least one lighted lamp displaying a red or red and blue light or lens visible under normal atmospheric conditions from a distance of five hundred feet to the front of the vehicle, except that an authorized emergency vehicle operated as a police vehicle need not be equipped with or display a red or red and blue light or lens visible from in front of the vehicle.

D. This section does not relieve the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons and does not protect the driver from the consequences of the driver’s reckless disregard for the safety of others.

Discipline and aftermath

The deputy was initially subject to sanctions after an internal review of 80 hours suspension; he appealed and the Maricopa County Merit Systems Commission reduced it to 40 hours in January 2016.

The Glendale city prosecutor (Glendale PD recommended a homicide charge) brought a criminal speeding charge in August 2014, TR-2014016745; caselookup only indicates guilty/sentence imposed. This is a low-level misdemeanor which presumably drew a fine.

The civil lawsuit grinds on, as of Dec 2015, e.g.  MCSO detective may face $4M wrongful-death suit:

Last year, Maricopa County Detective Sean Pearce sidestepped major criminal charges after an on-duty crash that killed 62-year-old John Harding in 2013.

Pearce, whose unmarked Tahoe was traveling at twice the speed limit when he rammed into Harding, instead faced a speeding fine and an internal probe.

The investigation found that that Pearce had violated Sheriff’s Office policy, but Pearce today remains on active duty and is currently appealing his discipline.[which as noted above was reduced from 2 to 1 weeks of suspension in Jan 2016]

But as the criminal and internal probes all but reach a conclusion, a looming wrongful-death lawsuit threatens to stretch the matter well into 2016.






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