Investigation finds no wrongdoing by Fruita officers before fatal crash
Fruita police said Wednesday they found no wrongdoing by the two patrol officers who made initial contact with an 18-year-old drunken driver who died minutes later on Interstate 70 after crashing her vehicle in the early morning hours Feb. 8.
However, family members of former Mesa State College student Samantha Loy said there may be have been “red flags,” and if the officers had noticed them, they could have prevented the ensuing tragedy.
“Being 18 and being pulled over at 1 o’clock in the morning, maybe he thought he was just giving her a break,” said a relative who didn’t want to be identified by name. “She lost her life because of it. I just hope it never happens to anyone else.”
Fruita Police Department Chief Mark Angelo said Wednesday that patrol officers Nick Peck and Josh Dove are not being cited with misconduct in the nine-minute stop with Loy that started at 1:05 a.m. that Sunday near the western end of Fruita’s Frontage Road.
Loy, who died about 10 minutes later after she rolled her vehicle, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.195, more than two times the legal limit. In Colorado, a driver is considered intoxicated and cannot legally drive with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08.
Peck has been an officer at the department for nearly seven years, and Dove has been an officer for a little more than a year. The administrative review was conducted by Fruita Police Department Sgt. Kevin Paquette and Sgt. Mitch Caldwell, Angelo said.
Angelo said the review was handled internally because the incident was a “basic traffic stop” and the department “is not looking at any criminal wrongdoing on the officers’ part.”
Officers first noticed a white Oldsmobile heading west on U.S. Highway 6&50 toward Fruita, speeding above the posted 35 mph limit, and officers estimated the vehicle was traveling about 50 mph, Angelo said, reading from the traffic-stop report. Officers followed the vehicle as it turned onto the 20 Road overpass and continued west, and the driver twice failed to signal turns, Angelo said.
Officers pulled over the vehicle, which they determined was driven by Loy, in the area of South Mesa Street and East Lexington Way.
Loy was not ticketed for the traffic infractions, and officer Peck did not have any reason to believe the woman had been drinking, Angelo said.
Angelo said it wasn’t clear from the report Wednesday whether Peck asked Loy whether she had been drinking, but it’s not uncommon for officers to not ask without reason.
Peck made contact with Loy while Dove stood to the rear of the vehicle as backup, and the officers checked for warrants and whether Loy had valid insurance, and they attempted to help Loy, who said she was lost, find her boyfriend’s house.
Peck’s report said, “I did not observe any indicators of alcohol or drug impairment from Loy.”
“Everything officer Peck and officer Dove did was by the book,” Angelo said. “They did what they could within the law. If the indicators aren’t there, you have no right to continue to detain that person.”
David Pangallo, 23, said he was talking on the phone with Loy, giving her directions to his house, when she told him she was being followed by a cop and sounded worried. Pangallo said he asked Loy if she had been drinking, and she admitted she had been a little earlier that day.
“She was like, ‘Crap, I’m getting pulled over,’ ” Pangallo recalled.
After Loy was pulled over and released, she and Pangallo agreed to meet at Mesa Mall, and Loy was heading back east on the interstate when she crashed at about mile marker 23, near the 20 Road overpass. Emergency dispatchers received the call at 1:22 a.m.
Loy was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash, and Pangallo said Loy was often chided by friends for her constant refusal to wear one.
After texting Loy at 1:35 a.m., asking if she was OK, Pangallo soon came upon the crash and told an officer Loy had been drinking. Pangallo said the officer said he didn’t know that.
“That’s ridiculous,” Pangallo said. “He was talking with her.”
Angelo said his officers are trained to recognize the signs that drivers having been drinking alcohol, such as bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. Those indications, however, may be more difficult to spot, depending on a number of factors, including a person’s weight, the kind of alcohol they were drinking and their personal tolerance for alcohol. Officers need to establish reasonable suspicion in order to detain someone, he said.
“You can’t just be pulling people out of their cars and asking them to do roadside maneuvers,” Angelo said.
Angelo said while officers receive a fair share of training, the incident reinforces the agency’s commitment to DUI training.
Fruita officers increased DUI arrests by 85 percent from 2007 to 2008, going from 48 to 89, Angelo added.
Angelo said the department feels deeply for the Loy family and also for Peck. Peck was offered Friday off after the incident, and he took that day off, but he has not requested any additional time off, Angelo said.
“I can’t imagine being in his shoes, stopping someone 20 minutes before an accident and thinking ... ‘What could I have done differently?’ In this review, there was no misconduct,” he said.