CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Police Chief Steve Sanders said it appears a police officer ran a stop sign at Grand and Sycamore streets striking another vehicle in a fatal crash Wednesday.
By Sharna Johnson and Liliana Castillo
The squeal of brakes and the sound of two automobiles colliding drew Danny Kendrick out of his garage about 9:30 Wednesday night.
Kendrick said he saw steam rising from a police car that had run over a stop sign and come to rest on a curb.
“I asked the police officer what happened. He said he didn’t know,” Kendrick said. “He was out of it still.”
Police said Thursday they believe Officer Stephen Gallegos ran through a stop sign at the intersection of Grand and Sycamore streets. His patrol unit then collided with a Ford Ranger pickup truck.
Mary Castillo, 56, a passenger in the pickup, died about 2:30 p.m. (MST) Thursday at University Medical Center in Lubbock, according to her brother Angel Martinez.
Edith Payton, 40, the pickup’s driver, was in critical condition Thursday at UMC.
Kendrick said he didn’t notice the pickup at first when he arrived on the scene. He said it ended up facing west in an alley behind a church near the intersection. He didn’t spot the pickup until emergency personnel began running to help the occupants.
“What struck me and is still bothering me is that there were tire tracks on the hood of the police car,” Kendrick said.
Kendrick said there were large pieces of the pickup in the church parking lot between the police car and where the truck was stopped.
“Preliminarily (it appears) Officer Gallegos didn’t get stopped at the stop sign and that’s probably the cause of the crash,” Clovis Police Chief Steve Sanders said Thursday evening.
“He’s been placed on restricted duty to the police station for the time being to give him an opportunity to get through this.”
Sanders said Gallegos is struggling with the crash.
“He’s very shaken up about what took place,” Sanders said. “He obviously has lots of question about what took place. He, too, is searching for answers about what happened.”
Gallegos, previously an officer in De Baca County before being hired by Clovis more than a year ago, was on routine patrol in his unit at the time of the crash, Sanders said.
“He was just patrolling his district. There was no pursuit, nor was he en route to a call for service,” he said.
A Clovis police press release said the incident is being investigated by the Clovis Police Department Technical Accident Investigation Team and will be reviewed by the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
Sanders said his department is investigating the crash because, “We are responsible for investigating any incident within the jurisdiction of the city. We have the investigators capable, experienced and educated to conduct such an investigation.
“It doesn’t matter who’s involved in this. It’s our responsibility to find the facts and the truth in any case, regardless of who’s involved.”
Sanders said the crash is Gallegos’ first while employed by the department.
Investigators are checking to see if his unit was equipped with a “black box” or recording device that tracks speed and other data, Sanders said.
He said speed has not been determined.
Investigators are also checking to see if the police unit’s video camera was active and, if so, what if anything it captured.
Sanders said blood has been collected from the vehicle drivers to test for alcohol or drugs.
Sanders said with the upcoming holidays and depending on laboratory results to reach final conclusions, an incident report will probably not be ready until after Thanksgiving.