2 Colo. cops charged for leaving handcuffed woman inside patrol car on train tracks

Each face multiple charges including reckless endangerment, second-degree assault, attempt to commit manslaughter and reckless endangerment


By Noelle Phillips
The Denver Post

DENVER — Two police officers face criminal charges for leaving a woman handcuffed in the back of a police SUV parked on railroad tracks and failing to move the vehicle as a train was barreling down the tracks.

Fort Lupton Police Department officer Jordan Steinke is charged with one count of criminal attempt to commit manslaughter, one count of second-degree assault and one count of reckless endangerment, according to a news release from the 19th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

Platteville Police Department Sgt. Pablo Vazquez is charged with one count of reckless endangerment, one count of obstructing a highway or other passageway, one count of careless driving and one count of parking where prohibited, the DA’s news release said.

Yareni Rios-Gonzalez, 20, of Greeley suffered multiple broken bones and a head injury when a Union Pacific train smashed into the Platteville Police Department patrol vehicle around 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16, on railroad tracks near U.S. 85 and Weld 38.

Police had pulled her over after receiving reports of an earlier road rage incident. Rios-Gonzalez was charged with one count of felony menacing for allegedly pointing a gun at someone, according to the news release.

Rios-Gonzalez was pulled over just past railroad tracks on Weld 38, but the Platteville officer who was pursuing her parked his SUV on the tracks. Two Fort Lupton officers arrived to assist, and after Rios-Gonzalez surrendered, they handcuffed her and put her in the back of the patrol SUV. But none of the officers moved the SUV off the track.

Police body camera footage obtained by The Denver Post through an open records request after the crash shows a police officer standing near the patrol vehicle parked on railroad tracks running for safety seconds before the train — its horn blaring — slammed into the SUV.

Two other officers were searching Rios-Gonzalez’s pickup truck for weapons when the train sounded its horn in the distance. It took them at least 15 seconds to react to the sound, the body camera footage showed.

The Platteville police vehicle’s front passenger-side door was open when the train smashed into it, pushing the car several yards, the video footage showed. The officers immediately called for help, saying a patrol car had been struck by a train.

Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke did not identify which police officers in the video are those who now face criminal charges. The DA’s office would not comment beyond the news release, citing pending litigation.

Rios-Gonzalez, who suffered a head injury, a back injury and nine broken ribs, sternum and arm, has retained an attorney in anticipation of filing a civil lawsuit against the police. She was released from the hospital after a 12-day stay.

Her attorney, Paul Wilkinson, told The Denver Post in September that his client saw the train coming and heard its horn. She tried to get the officers’ attention by screaming and also tried to unlock the police SUV’s door.
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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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