August 30, 2003

Rollover crash injures sheriff’s deputy

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A Spokane County sheriff’s deputy remains on life support after suffering severe head injuries caused by a rollover car crash.

Sheriff Mark Sterk withheld the name of the 41-year-old deputy who crashed his car Friday morning on Grove Road, between Jade and Andrus roads south of Interstate 90.

“It’s done because he is family,” sheriff’s spokesman Cpl. Dave Reagan said. “The wife asked us to withhold the name for 24 hours so her daughters could be with him. We told her we would.”

The deputy radioed at 2:17 a.m. to say he was responding to back up fellow Deputy Shawn Audie, who was following - but not chasing - a stolen 1990 Ford Probe that was southbound on Nine Mile Road.

The responding deputy had spike strips in his car and could have blocked the stolen car if it attempted to flee into the West Plains area, Reagan said.

As the unnamed deputy drove north on Grove to meet Audie, the deputy’s car approached a curve with a posted speed limit of 35 mph.

He failed to navigate the curve and his car left the roadway, veering into the right gravel shoulder.

Sgt. Martin O’Leary said the marks in the gravel show that the deputy attempted to steer back onto the roadway. But his car continued for about 100 feet before striking a wooden pole head-on.

Once the vehicle hit the pole and sheared it off at its base, the car’s rear end spun around and the car rolled laterally for 60 or 70 feet before coming to rest in the ditch.

The patrol car, which was destroyed, took out a small pine tree and several feet of a barbed-wire fence as it caromed along the ditch.

The deputy was wearing his seat belt and the airbag deployed, O’Leary said.

“The top of the vehicle pushed in. We have indications that his head struck on a door post. That is probably where the injuries occurred,” he said.

It wasn’t clear how fast the deputy was driving. O’Leary said it will take time for investigators to determine that.

“It’s hard saying. He was running code,” O’Leary said. “He never got there.”

Running code means a deputy is trying to get to a call as fast and safely as possible.

At 2:27 a.m., which was 10 minutes after the deputy told dispatch he was responding to assist Audie, a citizen called 911 to report the crash.

The caller didn’t know the name of Grove Road and had to guide emergency vehicles to the scene by listening for other deputies’ sirens, Reagan said.

Deputy Michael McNees arrived first. The injured deputy was still strapped into his car and was unconscious.

He was transported to Sacred Heart Medical Center and underwent surgery at about 5:30 a.m. He was later put on life support, Reagan said.

Sterk spent most of Friday with the deputy’s family and friends.

“I think the thing that sticks out most to me is the number of deputies and Spokane Police officers at the hospital waiting to find out what was happening,” he said. “That was a really clear message to me that they hold him in high esteem as a colleague and as a fellow officer.”

The deputy is a retired Marine with a wife and two daughters, one adult and the other a child. The elder daughter was due to fly into Spokane at 11 p.m. Friday, Sterk said.

“My sense of it is that this has been fairly devastating for the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office,” he said.

The last time a Spokane County deputy was injured on patrol was Dec. 16, 2001. Sgt. Earl Howerton suffered serious injuries when former deputy James Crabtree crashed into him on Bigelow Gulch Road.

Howerton has returned to light-duty work, and Crabtree was sentenced last month to five years in prison in connection to the crash and drug charges.

Reagan said no deputies have died in the line of duty in his 23 years on the force.

Sterk asked the Washington State Patrol to assist in the crash investigation, just as he would for an officer-involved shooting.

As for the stolen car, Deputy Audie was able to stop it with help from the Spokane Police Department. Arrested were Desiree M. Bugg, 26, on suspicion of felony possession of stolen property and Christopher W. Hardwick, 23, for a warrant charging him with driving on a suspended license.

They will not face further charges in connection with the deputy’s accident, Sterk said.

Several of the crash investigators commented Friday that it could have happened to any one of them at any time, O’Leary said.

“Everybody is really quiet right now - really quiet,” O’Leary said as he looked at the torn turf and fence of the crash scene. “It’s a dangerous job.”

Sterk agreed, saying deputies are stretched thin trying to cover huge unincorporated areas of the county.

“Oftentimes our guys are running code just to get there in a timely fashion,” he said. “I think that this is a consequence of the way we have to do business in the county.

“For me, you hope you are going to escape your career without going through this.”


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