Officer was driving 109
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Updated: Jul. 25, 2009 | 7:32 a.m.
In the moments before officer James Manor plowed into a pickup attempting a left turn, he was driving his patrol car 109 mph without flashing lights or siren, Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie said Wednesday.
The speed was the equivalent of traveling the length of a football field in about two seconds. It gave Manor little time to avoid hitting Calvin Darling's truck May 7. At the time of impact, after braking and trying to steer out of the way, Manor was still driving 90 mph.
Gillespie called Manor's speed in the 45-mph zone on Flamingo Road "excessive and unsafe," even if his lights and siren had been on. The facts of the accident probably will alter the charges Darling faces, the sheriff said.
"The facts that we have I think certainly change the charges that are there," a stern Gillespie said in an afternoon news conference. "We do believe his speed was a significant factor in what took place in this accident. So yes, we are looking at those original charges."
Darling, 45, was arrested for driving under the influence and failing to yield to an emergency vehicle. Gillespie said he couldn't see Darling facing the latter charge because Manor's lights and siren were off.
The crash, which resulted in the first death of an on-duty Metropolitan Police Department officer since Henry Prendes was killed in 2006, shook up the department and the community. Thousands attended Manor's funeral Friday. In the days after the 28-year-old officer's death, a stream of mourners paid their respects at the crash site.
The information about the lack of lights and siren on Manor's patrol car reversed what Gillespie first said after the accident. The sheriff initially was adamant that Manor and an officer in a second patrol car were on their way to a call with lights and sirens on.
The investigation now shows that the second officer also was not running lights or a siren, Gillespie said. The second officer's speed has not been determined.
Gillespie said that when he addressed the media many hours after the accident, he had been given incorrect information by first responders to the crash. They said Manor and the second officer had their lights and sirens on.
"They were there right after it, and they thought that that's what they were told," the sheriff said. "And we didn't interview the secondary officer right away because it was a very traumatic event."
The department will review and change how it collects and releases information after fatal accidents involving officers, Gillespie said. He said the department wasn't considering disciplinary action against those officers who relayed the information.
The sheriff also maintained that Darling's arrest for driving under the influence was valid. It wasn't yet known whether Darling was indeed under the influence.
"He told the officers he had been drinking, and he failed a DUI field test," Gillespie said.
A little over an hour after the accident, a blood test showed Darling had a blood-alcohol level of 0.035, well below the legal limit of 0.08. A second test an hour later showed his level had dropped to 0.021.
Clark County District Attorney David Roger declined to comment through his secretary because his office had not yet received the case. Darling's first court appearance is scheduled for June 8.
A statement from Darling's attorney, Sean Sullivan, read: "Thankfully LVMPD came forth with the facts that substantiate my client's statement of how the accident occurred."
One of Darling's close friends, neighbor Nick Perna, said Darling was "physically beat up" from the accident and still recovering mentally.
"I'm happy to see that some honesty and truth are coming out, and maybe my friend will stand a chance to get vindicated," Perna said. "Unfortunately, two great guys met at a bad time, and that's just the fact of life, unfortunately."
The crash investigation is continuing. So far, it has determined that Manor was not wearing a seat belt, Gillespie said. He said he didn't know whether the lack of a seat belt contributed to the young officer's death. Manor was not ejected from the vehicle.
The facts of the accident have prompted Gillespie to form a committee of executive staff members to evaluate the department's procedures and training for officers when responding to calls.
He said the department had prepared a message to its officers about the dangers of speeding.
"We will look at this case as an organization to see where we can improve so our employees don't make the same tragic mistake," he said.
Investigators determined Manor's speed through electronics in the vehicle and with separate calculations made by a fatal crash investigator, Gillespie said. Detectives determined that his police lights were off through an investigation of the bulbs.
Manor and the other officer were eastbound on Flamingo Road, responding to a domestic violence call made by a 14-year-old girl.
At 12:48 a.m., Darling pulled in front of them in his lifted Chevrolet Silverado pickup at Ravenwood Drive, near Tenaya Way. Manor couldn't avoid the truck, and the two vehicles collided. Darling later told police that he saw the patrol cars but thought he had enough time to make the turn, according to the arrest report.
The mother of the 14-year-old told the Review-Journal that her daughter had been struck by her father that night but that she had fabricated other details of the incident. On the day of the accident, police said the call was not a prank and the girl wouldn't face charges.
Gillespie called Wednesday's news conference because he wanted to provide answers to questions that had arisen in the days after the crash. Several witnesses to the accident said they did not see any lights or hear any sirens coming from the officers' vehicles.
"As your sheriff, it is extremely important to me that Metro continues to have a reputation of integrity and transparency," Gillespie said. "I promise you that as your sheriff, I will do everything I can to maintain the public trust."
Review-Journal writer Brian Haynes contributed to this report. Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at lmower@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440.