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Officer had the red light

APD Sgt. Adam Casaus ran a red light as he drove west on Paseo del Norte into the intersection of Eagle Ranch Road, T-boning a northbound SUV and killing its passenger in the early morning hours of Feb. 10, according to the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office.

BCSO issued a news release Wednesday that also clears up a question that’s been looming since the crash: Where did information released to the media after the crash that Casaus had been “attempting to catch up to a possible drunk driver” come from? According to the news release, that information was based on statements the veteran sergeant made at the scene.

“There is no corroborating information to either confirm or deny that statement,” the news release says.

After obtaining APD dispatch records through a public records request, the Journal on Saturday reported that dispatchers never advised Casaus of a suspected drunken driver in the area prior to the crash, and he didn’t call out over his police radio that he had seen someone showing signs of intoxication behind the wheel.

APD officers are required to advise dispatchers of any traffic stops with information including what kind of vehicle they are trying to pull over.

Ashley Browder, 21, was killed in the crash. The driver, Ashley’s sister, 19-year-old Lindsay Browder, was released several days after the crash from University of New Mexico Hospital, where she was treated for a broken hip and spine.

An attorney for the Browder family declined to comment on the case but said in an email that the family is “profoundly grateful for the outpouring of support from the community and appreciate the media’s respect of their need for privacy.”

BCSO has turned preliminary findings in the case over to APD and the District Attorney’s Office, the news release says. A completed case, which could take up to a month, also will be sent to prosecutors “for review and the pursuit of any possible charges.”

Sheriff’s Capt. Jessica Tyler said that investigators will not recommend any specific charges when they turn the case over to the DA’s Office. District Attorney Kari Brandenburg would not speculate Wednesday on what, if any, charges might apply in the case.

Another revelation in Monday’s release was that neither Casaus nor Lindsay Browder was tested by BCSO for drugs or alcohol as part of the criminal investigation. That’s because, according to the news release, there was “no indication of impairment for either driver.”

BCSO doesn’t have a policy governing testing in criminal investigations of fatal crashes, Tyler said.

However, Casaus was tested under the city of Albuquerque’s administrative rules that requires employees be tested for drugs and alcohol after a crash, APD spokeswoman Tasia Martinez said. But APD policy states that the results of administrative post-crash testing are confidential. And while the results can be used for disciplinary purposes, they can’t be used against an officer in a criminal case.

Among the big questions remaining in the case is how fast the two vehicles were traveling. Sheriff’s investigators executed search warrants for the crash data recorders – commonly known as “black boxes” – for Browder’s Honda CR-V and Casaus’ APD Chevy Tahoe SUV. Investigators are reviewing data contained on the recorders, which ostensibly will show the vehicles’ speed at the time of the crash and, potentially, whether either driver applied the brakes.

According to APD policy, officers are allowed to run red lights when responding to an emergency call or when in pursuit of a suspect.

The department’s policy “does not relieve the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons, nor does it protect the driver from the consequences of his reckless disregard for the safety of others.”

Casaus, according to BCSO, was driving with his emergency lights on, but not his sirens. His Tahoe has emergency lights in its grill, on its sideview mirrors and in its dashboard area. It does not have a light bar on its roof.

Driving with emergency lights but no sirens on, according to APD policy, implies a “Code 2” response. Officers are authorized to respond “Code 2” to in-progress felony calls, including: robberies, burglaries, forgeries, rapes, auto thefts, larcenies and hold-up alarms.

In a “Code 2” response, officers may use their sirens to clear traffic and to negotiate intersections, according to APD policy.

Casaus was scheduled to be off duty at 11 p.m. and there are no records that he was working overtime. Off-duty officers can respond to emergencies, but dispatch has no record of him calling one in.

Casaus still hadn’t been cleared by a doctor to return to work Wednesday, according to APD. When he does return, he will be assigned to desk duty pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.

— This article appeared on page A2 of the Albuquerque Journal