A traffic stop turned into something unexpected when a freight train went speeding by — and hit a patrol car with a suspect inside.
Now, police officers are facing consequences for their actions.
What Happened on the Tracks?
On September 16, 2022, multiple police departments responded to a report of a road rage incident that involved the use of a firearm in Fort Lupton, an area north of Platteville, Colorado.
According to the Denver Gazette, the suspect was 20-year-old Yareni Rios-Gonzalez. Police pulled over Rios-Gonzalez near a set of railroad tracks where freight trains run about a dozen times per day. Officer Jordan Steinke handcuffed Rios-Gonzalez and put her in the back of a squad car belonging to Pablo Vazquez while the officers searched her vehicle.
A few minutes after being placed in the squad car, Rios-Gonzalez began screaming. The front passenger-side door of the police car was open. Rios-Gonzalez leaned toward the door, but she could not reach it because she was behind bars in the backseat, according to Associated Press reporting.
Seconds later, a freight train crashed into the car with Rios-Gonzalez still in the backseat. Body and dash cam footage captured the scene.
Rios-Gonzalez survived the accident, but she sustained serious injuries including broken bones and a traumatic brain injury.
Who Was at Fault?
The officer who placed Rios-Gonzalez in the squad car said she didn’t realize the vehicle was on the tracks because she didn’t park the vehicle. Officer Steinke says she was worried about the threat that could come from Rios-Gonzalez and was not looking at the ground.
Attorneys for Rios-Gonzalez and state prosecutors see it another way.
Both Officer Steinke and Officer Pablo Vazquez, the officer who parked the squad car on the tracks, were criminally charged in the case. Rios-Gonzalez also filed a civil lawsuit against the officers and police departments involved in the incident.
What Are the Criminal Charges?
Steinke, who put Rios-Gonzalez into the squad car, was charged with felony criminal attempt to commit manslaughter as well as reckless endangerment and third-degree assault, both misdemeanors.
Vazquez was charged with misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment and traffic offenses.
Vazquez’s case has not been heard in court, while Steinke’s case has already reached a verdict.
Officer Who Put Woman in Squad Car Found Guilty
Steinke was found guilty of the two misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment and assault. She was acquitted of the felony charge, criminal attempt to commit manslaughter. There was no jury in Steinke’s trial. Judge Timothy Kerns listened to the evidence and issued the verdict.
Kerns said the evidence showed that Steinke “didn’t knowingly intend to harm.” The judge also said, “There’s no reasonable doubt that placing a handcuffed person in the back of a patrol car, parked on railroad tracks, creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm by the train.”
Steinke is scheduled to be sentenced in September.
What Are the Civil Charges?
In addition to the criminal charges against the officers, a civil case is also underway as it relates to the accident.
Rios-Gonzalez is suing both the Fort Lupton and Platteville police departments and three officers involved in the incident: Steinke, Vazquez, and a third officer who failed to help Rios-Gonzalez as the train approached. Steinke was working for the Fort Lupton police department, and Vazquez was working for the Platteville police department at the time of the crash.
For Rios-Gonzalez to win her personal injury case, she must prove:
- The accident was caused by negligence. She must show that the officers and police department could have prevented an unsafe condition but did not act.
- The accident directly led to injury. Rios-Gonzalez will present her injuries which included nine broken ribs, a broken arm, a broken leg, a fractured sternum, and traumatic head injury from the accident.
- The accident caused damages. Rios-Gonzalez’s attorney will need to show how the physical injuries led to financial and emotional damages.
Both the civil case and criminal case against Vazquez are upcoming, and we will have to wait for results in these cases.
Protect Your Rights After an Accident
Every person has the right to be safe and secure. If another party’s negligence leads to injury to you or a loved one, you deserve to be made whole. Talk to a personal injury attorney if you have experienced a loss due to the carelessness of another party.
All consultations with TJ Grimaldi are free, so contact our office to discuss your case and see how we can help you collect what is due to you. Schedule your consultation or call 813-226-1023 today.
TJ Grimaldi joined McIntyre in 2011. McIntyre recruited TJ to create the divisions of personal injury and family law, as well as to expand the existing criminal defense practice at the firm. During TJ’s tenure at McIntyre, he has helped oversee and grow these practice areas. He continues to practice in these divisions while also expanding his own practice areas to include estate planning and immigration law. TJ is admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of Florida and the United States District Court for the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida.