County Attorney George Silva said he has decided not to file criminal charges against the driver who struck and fatally injured Nogales Police Department Officer Jeremy Brinton.
Silva’s decision came after the Arizona Department of Public Safety turned over the results of its investigation into the May 20 incident, in which Brinton, an 18-year veteran of the department, was hit by a vehicle while directing traffic as part of a nighttime lane closure on Interstate 19.
“At this point, we do not have enough evidence to proceed with criminal charges,” Silva said, adding that he would leave the case in follow-up status for a year in case any new information emerges that would call for a re-evaluation.
Reached on Monday, the brother of Brinton’s wife Denise said the family did not wish to comment on Silva’s decision at this time.
NPD Chief Roy Bermudez wrote in an emailed statement that: “Officer Jeremy Brinton’s tragic accident was painful for our community, our department and especially his family. He left a void that will never be filled.”
“When an incident like this happens, we all want accountability,” Bermudez continued. “However, I know that the Arizona Department of Public Safety conducted a very detailed and diligent investigation and reconstruction of the accident. I also know that Santa Cruz County Attorney George Silva took into account the totality of the circumstances and facts that were presented to him through the Arizona Department of Public Safety investigation.”
Shortly after 8 p.m. on May 20, Brinton was a working an off-duty assignment on northbound I-19 in connection with the State Route 189 construction project, directing vehicles headed onto the offramp at Exit 4 after the two northbound lanes were closed. A DPS crash report released to the NI in response to a public records request shows that Brinton was wearing a yellow reflective vest and using a flashlight to slow traffic. It was dark and weather data from the airport indicated clear skies.
Brinton’s NPD patrol vehicle was parked on the west side of the interstate, in front of a closure barrier, facing south with its overhead emergency lights flashing and headlights on.
A few feet to the east, a crash attenuator – a truck used in work zones that can absorb the impact of a vehicle crash – was in the triangular space between the interstate and exit ramp known as the “gore,” its orange flashing lights activated. Brinton was positioned a few feet farther east in the offramp.
The DPS report states that orange reflective barriers had been deployed on the interstate in a tapered pattern for a half-mile or more to divert traffic into the exit lane. In addition, “numerous” signs were in place, alerting drivers to the closure and detour ahead.
Brinton was hit by a 2006 Chevy Trailblazer at 8:16 p.m., the DPS report says, though it notes that there were no tire marks or other roadway evidence to indicate a clear point of impact.
The driver of the crash attenuator truck told a responding DPS officer that he had seen Brinton wearing a safety vest and waving his flashlight to slow traffic. He also saw the officer get hit by the SUV, whose driver then came to a stop.
“I quickly ran to the driver of the SUV and told him that he needed to call 911,” the crash truck driver reportedly said.
A Nogales Fire Department EMS crew arrived at the scene at 8:21 p.m. and a med-evac helicopter landed there at 8:55 p.m., according to the report. Brinton was flown to Tucson for treatment, but was pronounced dead the next day at 1:22 p.m. He was 40 when he died.
A DPS officer who arrived at the scene at 8:27 p.m. spoke to the driver of the SUV, who reportedly told him that he slowed down as he approached the exit, and saw the crash attenuator truck trying to merge from the gore area into the exit ramp. He said he went around the truck, which is when he hit Brinton.
The driver reportedly said there were three or four vehicles behind him – “That’s why I was not able to stop” – and was traveling between 25 and 35 mph at the time.
The man’s daughter, a juvenile, was in the passenger seat of the vehicle, and reportedly told the investigator that she had been looking down to get her water. When she looked up, she saw someone in the road and shouted to her father, “but it was already too late.” She said the person who was hit was wearing a green/yellow traffic vest.
According to Silva, “it appears Brinton was standing in the traffic lane and not the shoulder area” at the time.
The DPS report given to the NI provides a summary of the initial crash investigation, but does not include follow-up reconstructions, interviews or other detective work.
Asked about the quality of the overall investigation, Silva said: “It was extremely thorough. Honestly, I’ve never seen such a thorough investigation before.”
DPS conducted three reconstructions of the incident with the vehicle driving at different speeds and an officer present where Brinton was standing, Silva said. In addition, he said, they established a timeline of the driver’s cell phone use “and determined he was not using the phone during the actual collision.”
DPS also reportedly found no signs, symptoms or other evidence that the driver was impaired by drugs or alcohol.
“He said, ‘I didn’t see him. I didn’t see him until I struck him,’” Silva said of the driver’s account. “And then when you look at everything that DPS did, and even the reconstruction of the route that the suspect vehicle took, it becomes apparent that it would be extremely difficult to the see the officer conducting traffic control or standing on the roadway at that particular moment because of everything else that was going on and all the other flashing lights.”
As for the SUV driver’s assertion that the crash attenuator truck had been pulling out of the gore at the time, Silva said. “The (crash truck) driver was under the impression that the officer was stopping traffic for him to move into the lane and get out of the interstate,” he said.