Police investigation, lawsuit differ over cause of fatal crash - Albuquerque Journal

Police investigation, lawsuit differ over cause of fatal crash

Brendan McClure, 28, was fatally injured on June 4, 2017 as he walked home with the family groceries on Coors Boulevard north of Gun Club. (Courtesy of Barbara Kirk)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

An Albuquerque police investigation faulted Brendan McClure and poor street lighting for the fatal crash that caused his death the early morning of June 4, 2017.

But a wrongful death lawsuit filed by his parents contended he was killed in part because Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Deputy Leroy Chavez was racing to a South Valley taco truck that early morning for a lunch break.

Earlier on the graveyard shift, Chavez had texted his friend and fellow deputy Keith Curry about meeting up at the truck off Coors north of Gun Club, stated the lawsuit.

GPS monitoring data for Chavez’s patrol car showed the deputy traveled west on Rio Bravo at more than 91 mph before turning onto south Coors after leaving a call concerning a loud party, the lawsuit stated.

Headed south, about 1:20 a.m., Chavez merged into the double turn lane and instead of turning, used it as a driving lane, the lawsuit alleged.

Meanwhile, with all the permanent businesses along the roadway closed, McClure was walking south, using the same turn lane for a few hundred yards “as the most practical path for a pedestrian at the time of his death,” the lawsuit stated.

To access a driveway to the late night taco truck, Chavez would have had to turn left from the turn lane, but the lawsuit contends he never engaged his turn signal or slowed down before the crash.

A survelliance video from an auto parts store on Coors captured McClure’s final moments, as he was lit up from behind by the headlights of the BCSO patrol car.

“Deputy Chavez drove right over and through Brendan McClure and his shopping cart at 53 miles an hour without seeing him at any point, even in his headlights, because Chavez was negligently speeding in the median lane, and driving distracted,” the lawsuit alleged.

At a 2019 deposition in the case, Chavez said he didn’t think he was driving that fast and couldn’t recall whether his left turn blinker was on.

“Usually when I respond at a high rate of speed like that, it’s going to a priority call with lights and sirens,” said Chavez, who joined BCSO in 2014 after stints as a Sun Van driver and working in the APD prisoner transport unit.

But there was no emergency that morning.

Chavez said he told sheriff’s Internal Affairs investigators that just before the crash he was checking to see if the taco truck, a regular place to meet fellow deputies, was open.

“Maybe me kind of looking out in the distance maybe overlooked you know the things that were closer to, to my vehicle,” Chavez stated.

The first time he saw McClure was after the crash, he stated, “when he was laying on the roadway.” McClure died at the scene.

An Albuquerque Police Department detective who investigated the crash looked at survelliance video and concluded Chavez was traveling at 39 miles an hour, below the legal speed limit of 55 on the road. Chavez said he was never interviewed by the APD after the crash. The APD found no driver error.

An APD spokesman said this week the case, handled by the prior administration, was turned over to the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office.

In his deposition, Curry said McClure, who was wearing dark clothes, showed no signs of impairment or intoxication when he briefly stopped to talk to him just minutes before the crash. Curry then headed to the taco truck and waited for Chavez.

In hindsight, Curry said during his deposition that he wished he’d taken the time to follow McClure in his patrol car to ensure he moved off the road unharmed. But Curry said the BCSO was shorthanded that night, and that would have left only one other unit in the South Valley to answer calls – Chavez’s.

A year before the fatal crash, depositions showed, Chavez was disciplined for two accidents in his patrol car.

The first involved him backing into a civilian’s car that he said he didn’t see in January 2016. The second occurred nine months later, when he was driving too fast on Second NW, lost control of his patrol car and crashed into a concrete wall. No one was injured in either incident.

Chavez received a suspension of his BCSO take-home patrol car for three days after the first accident, and a 10-day suspension of such privileges after the second, according to the deposition. At that time, he was warned he could face dismissal if there was a future similar incident.

A BCSO spokeswoman this week declined to say whether any discipline was levied against Chavez in the McClure death.

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