Distracted Driving Evidence To Be Reconsidered In Arizona

PHOENIX (AP) — An attorney representing a man who told police he was texting when he fatally struck a police officer with his vehicle asked a judge to send the case back to the grand jury when records showed the driver was not on his phone.

Jerry Sanstead, 42, told law enforcement he must have been texting his wife in January 2019 when his car veered across the lanes of Loop 101 and fatally hit Salt River Police Officer Clayton Townsend, who was conducting a traffic stop, The Arizona Republic reported Wednesday.

But an investigation showed he was not texting, calling or using his iPhone at all for nearly two minutes before the crash. Given his speed, the phone went unused more than two miles (3.2 kilometers).

Sanstead was indicted on a single charge of reckless manslaughter. His attorney, Lawrence Kazan, argued Tuesday that prosecutors distorted the evidence they presented.

“In their zealous attempt to get an indictment in this case, it was pretty obvious they played pretty fast and loose with the truth,” Kazan told Judge Roy C. Whitehead.

However, Edward Paine, the deputy county prosecuting attorney, said the grand jury was told exactly what happened, including the hole in the prosecution's case.

“The state made it crystal clear that at the exact moment of impact, we could not prove that he was actually on the phone,” Paine said. “There was absolutely no misrepresentation on any of that at all.”

Whitehead said he will now consider the matter and issue a ruling.

It was not immediately clear from court records what caused Sanstead to veer off the freeway. Kazan suggested Sanstead may have had a seizure. Records show he had a seizure in jail the night of the accident and was taken to the hospital.

Sanstead had told doctors he had quit drinking alcohol days before and had undergone a “cleanse” of some sort, Kazan said. Doctors determined that might have triggered his seizure, documents said.

Sanstead, who remains free on bond, could not be reached for comment. His attorney said he would not pass along a request for an interview until after the case was resolved.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety told news outlets that Sanstead admitted to texting his wife before the accident. News stories, including those in The Republic, repeated the detail.

Townsend, 26, a five-year police veteran, left behind a wife and 10-month-old daughter. His death prompted the state Legislature to pass a ban on texting and driving that went into effect in January.