Law enforcement officers face significant risk of injury and death from traffic incidents; it’s a serious occupational hazard; The leading cause of death for police are … traffic collisions — not shootings or other attacks, and very few of the collisions involve high-speed chases. Just run-of-the-mill crashes where inattentive or otherwise impaired drivers crash into them.
Just how inattentive do you have to be to not be able to not notice an emergency vehicle with flashing lights? Apparently so much so that that driver will be charged with a crime, as Jorge Espinoza found out after killing DPS Officer Tim Huffman near Yuma in 2015. Espinoza was charged with 2nd Degree Murder, and convicted of Negligent Homicide and sentenced to 6 years in prison.
Arizona continues to lack a statewide cell ban (see news about city of Glendale, below); but the problem with flagrantly bad driver incidents in general continues to be lack of investigation along with lack of prosecutorial will to pursue cases. The case of Officer Huffman is the exception that proves the rule. Perhaps the case of Officer Townsend will be too.
The driver here was arrested on suspicion of a litany of charges, though that’s a long way from actually bringing charges, and longer still to any conviction. The message from the justice system in Arizona is clear: if you are drunk or chemically impaired and kill someone as a result, the hammer will come down hard. Otherwise, anything goes; unless you have the bad luck to kill a police officer.
In related news, Glendale is the latest of a whole bunch of localities that instituted handheld cell restrictions. Can you say ‘patchwork’? At the same time, it’s not at all clear these sorts of restrictions are effective at dissuading drivers from engaging in dangerous behaviors.
Driver who hit, killed Salt River officer while allegedly texting posts bond
David Baker Updated 14 hrs ago | Posted on Jan 8, 2019 19
… Sanstead is facing charges including manslaughter in connection with the Tuesday night wreck that killed Officer Clayton Townsend.
…While Townsend was standing at the driver’s side door of the white passenger vehicle he stopped, a black passenger vehicle entered the right-side emergency lane and collided with the white passenger vehicle and then hit the officer.
…According to DPS, Sanstead told detectives he was texting when his vehicle struck the police officer. A witness told DPS that Sanstead’s vehicle crossed over two traffic lanes before hitting the officer.
Sanstead, who has no previous record, was arrested and booked into jail for manslaughter, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and endangerment. His attorney told a judge Sanstead is a licensed massage therapist and is married with children. He’s due back in court for a preliminary hearing on Jan. 17.
There’s video of the initial appearance the defendant was released on $100,000 bond. Nothing showing in Maricopa County Superior court docket; not sure how that can be, and criminal prosecution seems unlikely, in spite of posturing by authorities. Maricopa County prosecutors ought to take a page out of Yuma County’s book…
There was a sortof puff piece surrounding this story where a reporter reached out to an attorney not affiliated with the case, Jeffrey Mehrens: Defense attorney weighs in on charges against driver involved in police officer’s death and despite the sickening, whether or not true, things he says, such as how since “everybody” looks at their phones and therefore it cannot be a “substantial risk”… he’s quoted as saying something that demonstrably false “Mehrens said he’s never seen or heard of a distracted driving case charged as manslaughter”. As mentioned above, distracted driver Jorge Espinoza was charged with 2nd Degree Murder, and convicted of Negligent Homicide and sentenced to 6 years in prison in Yuma county.
Another Successful Distracted Driver Prosecution
This CAN be done.
Attorney Ann Groninger writes at bikelaw.com about a wrongful death lawsuit involving a distracted driver in North Carolina which resulted in the driver pleading guilty to misdemeanor death by motor vehicle, and ultimately a $4.5 Million jury verdict for wrongful death including punitive damages.
The driver was doing it all in constant fashion for much of the time behind the wheel… texting, emailing, phoning, etc. The driver says the bicylclist swerved/drifted from the shoulder into the traffic lane, where he was unavoidably struck; no evidence supported that claim.
In this case the police analyzed the driver’s phone and records; establishing a pattern. The driver also, according to Groninger had a very poor driving history; and these facts were not allowed to be introduces at the civil trial (not sure why). The civil case would be named something like Rotberg v. Rutledge ( ).
One wonders what exactly is police procedures here in Arizona are? Why do they never (rarely?) seek to obtain records as part of investigations, particularly in obvious set-ups for distracted driving like any of the many “drifting” and/or “strike-from-behind” collisions? We know that drivers who cause crashes are prone to lie or do just about anything to deflect responsibility; the more obvious is fleeing the scene entirely (a criminal felony offense); drivers all know it’s dangerous to use a cell phone in any capacity while driving so it’s easiest and safest for them to just lie. In the vast majority of cases police don’t bother to follow up. And even when caught in a lie, there’s no downside (the driver of the now-famous Uber fatality initially lied about watching TV on her phone)
As an aside there’s an interesting fact about how impeding can’t apply to bicyclists made by Groninger, see bicycles-are-not-motor-vehicles-and-why-it-matters/#civil