DENVER (AP) — A woman who was seriously injured when the parked patrol car she was detained in was hit by a freight train filed a lawsuit against police on Thursday, accusing three officers of acting recklessly and failing in their duty to take care of her while she was in their custody.
Yareni Rios was handcuffed and put in the back of a patrol car that was parked on railroad tracks on Sept. 16, 2022. The lawsuit alleges that the train tracks were “plainly visible” to the arresting officer, Jordan Steinke, and she was standing on them as she put Rios inside the back seat on the driver's side of the patrol car belonging to Platteville Sgt. Pablo Vazquez.
Both Steinke, who was working for the Fort Lupton Police Department, and Vazquez, who is also named in the lawsuit, are being criminally prosecuted in the crash. A third officer who has not been criminally charged is accused in the lawsuit of failing to stop Rios from being put in the patrol car on the tracks and for not trying to help her escape when he heard the train approaching.
The passenger's side back door had been left open and Rios, previously identified by authorities as Yareni Rios-Gonzalez, screamed for help and tried to get out after hearing the train, the lawsuit said. However, she was not able to get out of the caged-in back seat because it is designed to prevent suspects from escaping, it said.
Rios was arrested after a report of an alleged road rage incident involving a gun before the crash and has since been charged with felony menacing.
Lawyers for Steinke and Vazquez did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment. The Platteville and Fort Lupton police departments, which are also named in the lawsuit, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
According to the lawsuit, as the train approached, Vazquez and Steinke were focused on searching Rios' truck, not the train, which was captured on a police body camera. About 30 seconds after the train hit the patrol car’s passenger side going about 50 mph (80 kmph), Vazquez asked if Rios was inside, and she said “Oh my God, yes, she was!”, it said.
Following the crash, Vazquez told other officers on body camera footage made public that he thought he had cleared the tracks when he parked his patrol vehicle behind Rios’ truck to arrest her. He said he was focused on her because he was concerned about weapons.
Vazquez also said he did not know that the other officer he was working with, identified in the lawsuit as Steinke, had put Rios in his patrol vehicle until after it was hit by the train. He said the “saving grace” was that Rios was put on the wrong side of the vehicle.