Knipfing’s Notes: A Tragic Twist of FateApril 13th, 2013 at 9:00 am by Dick Knipfing under Knipfings Notes, News
In the long history of cruel twists of fate, this one has to rank somewhere near the top: a young woman who had been drinking, chose not to drive, chose instead to do the right thing. She called her sister to pick her up, then was killed in a crash involving a drunk driver who may not exist. How sadly strange is that?
Albuquerque Police Sergeant Adam Casaus was bound over for trial this week on a vehicular homicide charge. He was off duty in the early morning hours of February 10th, driving his police SUV at twenty miles an hour over the speed limit, when he ran a red light at a west side intersection and plowed into a smaller car driven by 19 year Lindsey Browder. She was badly hurt and her passenger, her 21 year old sister Ashley, was killed. Ashley had been drinking downtown, knew she should not drive, and called Lindsey to pick her up. That was absolutely the right thing to do and it may have killed her.
Here’s where the plot thickens – or sickens – if Sergeant Casaus is not telling the truth. He told investigators the reason he was going nearly 65 in a 45 mph zone and busted the red light, is that he was after a possible drunk driver who he had spotted. But at his preliminary hearing this week, witnesses to the crash testified that they saw no other car. There’s also the question of why Sergeant Casaus did not call in to APD dispatch that he was pursuing a possible drunk driver.
Besides what the witnesses didn’t see, something they didn’t hear is also important. Casaus claims he had his emergency lights and siren on. The witnesses agree about the emergency lights but none heard a siren. Lindsey Browder testified that she heard no siren, even though she had turned her car radio off because Ashley had fallen asleep. The siren that didn’t sound could turn out to be as crucial as Sherlock Holmes’ famous “dog that didn’t bark”. (If you’re not sure what that’s all about, look it up on your search engine)
To be fair, we have not heard much of Casaus’ side of the story. At the preliminary hearing prosecutors presented evidence that convinced a judge that there is probable cause he committed vehicular homicide and the judge bound him over for trial. But, probable cause is not guilt. And Casaus’ attorney chose not to call his client, or anyone else, to testify at the hearing. So we have not heard him explain what appear to be serious inconsistencies.
There’s something else we have not heard about that may have a bearing on what happened: What went on during the three hours he got off duty at eleven o’clock and the time of the crash? We know he visited his wife who was working the overnight shift as a dispatcher for the sheriff’s office and left there shortly before the crash. Was he there for the entire three hours? If not, what was he doing between the time his shift ended and he went to the dispatch center?
There is no indication Sgt. Casaus had been drinking. The sheriff’s department investigator in charge of the case says he showed no sign of impairment at the scene, so his blood was not drawn. APD did draw Casaus’ blood under a city rule that mandates alcohol and drug tests for employees who crash in an official vehicle. But department policy says results of those tests are confidential. They also cannot be used for a criminal case, just for department discipline. APD’s internal affairs investigation is not complete. Depending on what it finds, he could be fired. But it’s not clear if the blood test results must be released. Meanwhile, he remains on leave with pay.
But, aside from all that, there’s this: even if a police officer has good reason to be running at high speed with emergency equipment on, APD policy makes it clear that he or she does not have the authority to simply go through an intersection, let alone a red light, without making sure that it’s safe to do so.
The criminal trial will almost certainly not be the end of this tragedy. A civil suit is likely. This story is not going away anytime soon. Of course the pain of this tragedy will never end for Ashley’s family, especially for her sister Lindsey .