By Darrell Todd Maurina
Five witnesses to the Fourth of July pickup crash that killed a Clovis woman are organizing a petition disputing police accounts of the incident.
The five, all neighbors or friends invited to a block party to watch fireworks, say Clovis police reports wrongly state that Officer Rodney Wallace used his sirens to warn residents of danger.
The witnesses also question police pursuit of the man alleged to have committed a traffic violation prior to the fatal crash.
Clovis police Capt. Dan Blair said he was unaware of the neighborhood petition but said the department would not comment until its internal investigation is complete.
“We’re still taking statements. For the guys who are reconstructing the crash, it’s a time-consuming process (and) we want them to do a good job,” Blair said. “We are not going to respond to any accusations until the investigation is complete.”
Wallace could not be reached for comment.
Joe Martinez Jr., 32, is in the Curry County Adult Detention Center facing vehicular homicide charges. Police say he crashed into eight vehicles and killed Bobbie Sandoval in a violent run down the 500 block of 18th Street in west Clovis, just minutes after the city’s fireworks display had concluded.
Dozens of people lined the block when the incident occurred.
In Wallace’s report of the incident, he said he witnessed a pickup commit a traffic offense and attempted to pull over the driver. Wallace said he followed the pickup slowly for several blocks, then witnessed it crash into another pickup and speed away down 18th Street. In the report, Wallace said he turned on his sirens to warn the public and stopped to check for injuries before following.
Neighborhood residents dispute the Wallace account, say they have filed statements with the Clovis Police Department, and are now contacting other witnesses.
“We feel like there is an injustice going on,” said Ceki Marriott. “In the police statement, (Wallace) claimed he was using his sirens and his lights, and that was not true.”
“I can’t speak for everybody, but I’m 100 percent sure there was no siren,” Marriott said. “Maybe the cop even thought he had the siren on, but it wasn’t.”
Chris Raposa, whose car was among those hit, brothers Kevin and Kenneth Akens and Kenneth Akens’ daughter Sarah all said they heard no sirens from Wallace’s patrol car.
“The first question in everybody’s mind was why there weren’t any sirens,” Raposa said.
Witnesses estimated the Martinez vehicle was traveling 60 to 70 mph when it crashed. Sarah Akens said she saw the police car speeding right behind the Martinez vehicle.
“I just don’t think that the police should have followed him that fast, especially if there were so many people,” Sarah Akens said. “The police officers are here to protect us, and they didn’t do that Friday night.”
Blair said, “I am not going to say it was a chase.”
“I think in the long run, the statements from the neighbors will bear that out,” Blair said.
Blair said Wallace remains on patrol duty and the department has no plans to place him on either paid or unpaid leave pending completion of the investigation. “There is no reason to do that,” Blair said. “As with any investigation, it takes time to be accurate.”
Kenneth Akens said the whole event, which took place on his birthday, will remain with him forever. His wife, a nurse, attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Bobbie Sandoval and both have vivid memories of the scene.
“I don’t want to see this happen again; the police need to learn from this,” Kenneth Akens said. “Next time, just let the people go.”
All five petition organizers said they wanted to emphasize their mission is to see procedures change for the future, not blame the officer.
“I know it’s going to seem like a lynch mob is after this guy, but that’s not the case,” Marriott said.