Driver in fatal crash was 'racing' for a parking space, police said 

Charges dismissed

click to enlarge Dierdorff: Charges have been dismissed. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY GOP
  • Courtesy El Paso County GOP
  • Dierdorff: Charges have been dismissed.

Colorado Springs Police and the Fourth Judicial District Attorney's Office disagree about the extent to which Trevor Dierdorff checked behind him before he backed into Mel Tolbert, who died of his injuries from the March 28 crash.

DA Dan May says in a statement issued April 19, three hours after police charged Dierdorrff, that he had dismissed the charges, because Dierdorff "did check his rear view camera while reversing."

But the Colorado Springs Police Department report said he paused for 1 second and looked to the right before "racing" in reverse to secure a parking space ahead of another vehicle, striking Tolbert so hard the impact dented the Toyota Land Cruiser's tailgate.

After approaching a green light at Platte Avenue and Tejon Street, Dierdorff accelerated so fast that "he took away any chance the pedestrian had to get out of the vehicle's path," the report stated.

Tolbert, 79, who ran Platte Floral for many years, died on April 2 from his injuries.

Police charged Dierdorff, 45, with careless driving causing death, a Class 1 misdemeanor traffic offense; and failure to exercise due care, a traffic infraction.

May countered by saying in a statement, "charges are not appropriate in this case." He also noted it's not illegal to drive in reverse and that Tolbert was jaywalking when he was struck.

Dierdorff is the head of the El Paso County Republican Party, in which May, in his third term as district attorney, is a key figure.

During the police investigation, officers discovered a surveillance camera in a building on Platte Avenue captured the crash.

"From the video," the police report states, "Mr. Dierdorff did not look in all the mirrors and did not check his blind spots. Had he done so he would have taken more than 1.0 second to change the gear selector, look in the three mirrors, check the blind spots to his left rear and right rear, and ascertain it was safe to back up."

Police noted Dierdorff appeared to be "racing" to get the parking space, and he made no attempt to spot Tolbert, who had moments before started across Tejon Street as Dierdorff drove by, according to the video, which has not yet been released to the public.

"After initially backing slowly, he accelerated quickly and struck the pedestrian," the police report says.

Based on the video, the police report notes, Dierdorff looked to the right before backing up for 3.5 seconds and then accelerated rapidly for about 1 second, with Tolbert directly behind the vehicle. Police calculated Dierdorff's speed at between 7.4 and 10.2 mph, and stated that the "backward movement of the vehicle was not done safely."

The police report notes the video shows another southbound vehicle on Tejon Street came up behind Dierdorff as he was backing. "It appears that Mr. Dierdorff is trying to back up before [the other] vehicle arrives; racing to position itself for the parking space," the report states. "Thus, Mr. Dierdorff's attention is focused on the vehicle approaching from the rear, and not potential hazards near his vehicle or in his blind spots."

Detective Daniel Smoker's report says that when he told Dierdorff his vehicle would be impounded pending the investigation and that May's office would decide when it would be released, "Mr. Dierdorff said he had just seen Dan May the prior evening." There's no further explanation about the comment.

The police report says officers discussed the case with a deputy district attorney, Benjamin Hostetter, who told them he'd discuss the case with his supervisors and view the video of the crash. Officers were told by a police lieutenant on April 3 not to issue summonses to Dierdorff "at this time," but they later served him with notice of the charges on April 19.

According to the law, a person who drives a vehicle in a careless and imprudent manner is guilty of careless driving, and a person who drives carelessly and causes death commits a Class 1 misdemeanor. A conviction carries a maximum jail sentence of one year and/or a fine up to $1,000. Traffic laws require a driver not to back up "unless such movement can be made with safety." Such a traffic offense carries a fine and points against a driver's license.

May has charged other drivers recently in connection with vehicle-pedestrian crashes. On April 19, his office announced a grand jury had indicted Douglas Clubb, 60, on a felony charge of child abuse resulting in serious injury, three counts of misdemeanor child abuse and four traffic offenses in connection with a Jan. 12 incident in which several children were struck by Clubb's vehicle. One child was seriously injured.

On Jan. 26, James Dye, 45, was charged in connection with a Jan. 24 incident in which two people were struck at Academy Boulevard and North Carefree Circle. One died. Dye was charged with careless driving causing death (the same charge filed against Dierdorff), careless driving causing bodily injury and two traffic infractions.

Unlike the crash that killed Tolbert, drivers in those cases were driving forward and struck pedestrians in crosswalks.

DA spokesperson Lee Richards has said that if it's clear a person should or should not be charged, the DA's Office makes the decision. "If not," she's said, "or there are questions, then it's brought to the grand jury to investigate and determine whether charges should be brought."

Asked why May didn't impanel a grand jury in the Dierdorff case, or seek a special prosecutor, May's office said via email: "We had a prosecutor at the scene of the accident who remained very involved throughout the investigation and our decision was made based strictly on the facts of the case and Colorado State law."

Dierdorff and Tolbert, who knew one another, were heading to the El Paso Club that morning for a breakfast event. After the crash, Dierdorff went to the hospital where police told him Tolbert's wife, Diane, "did not want to see him." Smoker described Dierdorff as "sad, remorseful, and in a state of shock."

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