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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

WSP investigation: Spokane officer was driving twice speed limit before crash that led to charges

A Spokane police officer is shown driving a Ford Police Interceptor patrol car in this 2014 photo.  (COLIN MULVANY)

A Washington State Patrol investigation found a Spokane police officer was driving 65 mph in a 30 mph zone seconds before he T-boned another car, injuring the two people inside it on March 25.

Officer Michael Brunner was not speeding to respond to an emergency. After clearing a robbery call just before 7 a.m. on the South Hill, he was heading back to the department as his shift ended. He had not been flashing lights or sounding a siren as he drove at more than twice the speed limit, the Washington State Patrol investigation found.

Moments before the crash, Officer Brandon Roy drove directly behind Brunner’s patrol vehicle, where Brunner was tailing driver Tamara Hedin from about 5 or 6 feet as she headed to work at Multicare Deaconess Hospital, according to WSP.

Roy sent Brunner a message through his computer stating, “the lady in front of you sucks,” and Brunner replied, “I know.”

Hedin turned on her blinker and moved to the right lane to turn right on Fifth Avenue and into the hospital. That’s when Brunner swerved out, revving his engine and passing the witness, according to court documents.

The witness then saw a white car enter the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Lincoln Street, going slowly. Brunner’s vehicle was going 65 mph three seconds before the collision and 31.7 mph at the time of impact. The white car was traveling 2 mph prior to the collision and 17 mph at time of impact, according to a WSP study conducted in May.

James Collins, who was driving the car Brunner reportedly struck, suffered a broken collarbone and rib, as well as bleeding in his right retina. His wife and passenger, Lois Collins, suffered a laceration on her head that required staples, according to the WSP report.

Brunner was treated for injuries that weren’t life-threatening, court documents say.

A Spokane Police Department news release about Brunner’s charges omitted the couple’s injuries and the circumstances that led to the crash.

Due to those omissions and the claim that the department immediately handed the case to WSP, a law firm representing the couple injured in the collision alleged the Spokane Police Department’s news release was “misleading and false” on Thursday.

In a news release of its own, Crary, Clark and Domanico Law, suing SPD, accused the department of trying to cover up Brunner’s fault in the crash by ticketing the injured civilians.

The Spokane police release did not mention speeding and said Brunner was “unable to bring his vehicle to a stop before colliding with the driver’s side of the civilian vehicle.” Police immediately turned the investigation over to the Washington State Patrol, according to the release.

“Contrary to the press release issued by the City of Spokane Police Department, in an apparent attempt to cover up Officer Brunner’s actions, Officers initially ticketed Mr. Collins for the collision rather than begin a criminal investigation into Officer Brunner,” the law office’s release said.

According to the law office, only after Brunner’s misconduct became “undeniable” did the Washington State Patrol investigate the police department’s actions and have the ticket dismissed.

“There was no cover-up or attempt to sweep anything under the rug regarding Officer Brunner’s liability in this accusation,” SPD spokesperson Julie Humphreys said.”

It wasn’t until SPD retrieved data from Officer Brunner’s vehicle that the department determined that speed was a factor in the accident, Humphreys said. At that time Chief Meidl notified WSP and asked them to conduct an investigation, Humphreys said.

“Clearly, SPD would not ask an outside agency to look into the actions of an officer if it were trying to cover up something,” Humphreys said.

Prosecutors charged Brunner with vehicular assault under a section of law alleging he drove in disregard for safety of others, causing substantial injury, rather than under the section alleging he drove recklessly, despite his driving over twice the posted speed limit, the attorneys’ release said.

Brunner, through his attorney Todd Maybrown, declined to provide a statement or any form of a report to WSP investigators, according to court documents.

Attorneys say this hindered the WSP investigation.

Maybrown and SPD did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Since the day after the crash accident, Brunner has been on administrative leave.

Brunner is scheduled for his first court appearance on Wednesday. When the criminal case concludes, the Spokane Police Department will initiate an internal investigation, according to a statement by SPD.