Colorado Officer Found Guilty in Train Incident

A Colorado police officer was found guilty of reckless endangerment and assault on Friday, but was cleared of a third charge of criminal attempt to commit manslaughter for putting a handcuffed woman in a parked police vehicle that was slammed by a freight train.

Two police officers are being tried for their roles in the September 16, 2022 crash that gravely injured Yareni Rios-Gonzalez. “There’s no reasonable doubt that placing a handcuffed person in the back of a patrol car, parked on railroad tracks, creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm by the train,” said Judge Timothy Kerns.

Steinke “knowingly intended to harm Ms. Rios-Gonzalez,” but the evidence presented to Kerns did not convince him of this, and he also noted that Steinke displayed “shock and remorse.”

Despite two railroad crossing signs and Steinke’s body camera evidence showing otherwise, she claimed that she was unaware that the patrol car of the officer she was assisting was parked on the tracks. Steinke claimed that she had been concerned only with the danger posed by Rios-Gonzalez and her pickup truck.

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According to Steinke, Rios-Gonzalez was momentarily detained in the other officer’s truck since it was the most convenient location. Apparently, she didn’t hear the train until right before it impacted. According to the judge, Steinke saw the train tracks but didn’t “appreciate the risk.”

The trial against Steinke began on Monday without a jury. Instead, Kerns considered the data presented and reached a decision. When reached by phone and email, Steinke’s lawyer Mallory Revel declined to comment.

Fort Lupton police officer Steinke was charged with felony criminal attempt to commit manslaughter, as well as misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment and third-degree assault.

Colorado Officer Found Guilty in Train Incident

The other officer, Pablo Vazquez, was employed by the Platteville police force and is being charged with traffic violations and misdemeanor reckless endangerment. He has not yet made a plea. Reid Elkus, his attorney, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Rios-Gonzalez was stopped by Vazquez after she was said to have pointed a gun at another motorist on a rural road that connects to U.S. Highway 85. Prosecutors claim that north of Denver, the sound of train horns can be heard many times a day as trains travel along rails that run parallel to the freeway.

Rios-Gonzalez is suing because of how she was cared for after sustaining a severe brain injury. One of her attorneys, Chris Ponce, who was there in court to observe the trial, stated afterward that she pled no contest to misdemeanor menacing. Rios-Gonzalez herself neither testified nor attended.

According to defense expert witness Steve Ijames, Steinke testified that she temporarily placed Rios-Gonzalez in the other police car because it was the nearest place to keep her secure during the high-risk traffic stop.

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He also stated that police officers sometimes become overly focused on one threat at the expense of others, which can lead to their missing details that are later revealed to be crucial.

Steinke said that she was astonished to find Vazquez sitting in his car when she came to back him up, rather than pointing a gun at Rios-Gonzalez’s truck, despite having driven at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour (161 kilometers per hour).

According to her account, she hurriedly parked her patrol car behind his and stepped out in order “to get a gun in the fight.” After being ordered out of her truck, the suspect, Rios-Gonzalez, was found kneeling on the tracks, and Steinke claimed she did not see the tracks or the ground as she squatted down to make the arrest.

A deputy district attorney named Christopher Jewkes probed Steinke on the matter, and Steinke responded, “I am sure I saw the tracks sir, but I did not perceive them.” She stated she was “fairly certain” the traffic stop would result in gunshots and that her entire attention was on the subject and the danger she posed.

I never in a million years thought a train was going to come plowing through my scene,” Steinke said. A call seeking comment from the Weld County District Attorney’s office went unanswered.

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