Investigators say a Maricopa County sheriff’s deputy driving an unmarked police vehicle was traveling at 81 mph in a 40 mph zone when he plowed into a car, killing the 63-year-old driver.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is weighing whether or not to charge Deputy Sean Pearce with the manslaughter of Glendale resident John Harding.
Pearce’s unmarked police vehicle, a Chevrolet Tahoe, hit Harding’s Nissan Cube as it was turning onto Hayward Avenue on Dec. 16. The speed at impact was 48 to 53 mph.
Harding later died at a local hospital.
The crash report stated that Harding failed to yield the right of way.
Pearce claims Harding was looking the wrong way the entire time.
He told investigators that he attempted to turn when he saw the Nissan pulling out so he would hit the rear of the vehicle, but his brakes locked.
He is still on regular duty, despite a criminal probe. An internal affairs investigation will begin when that probe is closed.
"One of the first things is trying to determine whether or not the facts involved support criminal liability versus something that, really at the end of the day, amounts to a horrific accident that is more appropriately resolved in a civil contest," said County Attorney Bill Montgomery.
In the state of Arizona any rate above 21 miles over the speed limit is deemed criminal speeding.
"Typically, in reviewing vehicular cases, speed alone may not be enough," he said. "We may look for something else in addition to that."
Harry Ryon, a former sergeant and 24-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, told AZ Central that police have the right to violate any traffic law, but only when sirens and emergency lights are being used.
Ryon said Pearce "did not have the right under state law to be driving that fast,” because the vehicle was unmarked and had no lights.
"If you're not on an emergency run, you're supposed to obey traffic laws," he added.
Furthermore he says Harding probably never would have guessed that the Tahoe was traveling so fast.