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Former deputy guilty of careless driving in fatal crash

By: LANCE BENZEL
April 5, 2012
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photo - Rodney Fannin Photo by
Rodney Fannin Photo by  

A former El Paso County sheriff’s deputy was convicted Thursday of careless driving resulting in the death of an Air Force Reserve officer.

A jury took less than two hours before returning its verdict against Rodney Fannin — marking a speedy rejection of his defense that a traffic signal wasn’t working properly at the time of  the Aug. 3 crash east of Colorado Springs.

Prosecutors alleged that Fannin ran a red light and later invented stories about his brakes failing and the light being green.

“The traffic light system has multiple redundancies and is as safe as we can make it,” prosecutor Jim Bentley said after the verdict.

Fannin, a 9-year veteran who worked at the El Paso County jail, was fired in September in the wake of the crash. At the time, he was on probation for another 2011 careless driving offense. He also has a careless driving conviction from 1996, court records show. That driving history was barred from being mentioned at trial — a routine ruling meant to ensure jurors consider only evidence of the pending case.

The verdict led to an outpouring of emotion from relatives and coworkers of the victim, 41-year-old Vivian Elmo. They tearfully embraced one another before filing out of the courtroom. Elmo, a captain with the 310th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base, died at the scene.

“She was amazing,” Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Tiffany Maine said in the hallway after the verdict was read. “It’s a tragic loss to the military and her friends, and devastating to her family.”

Some of Elmo’s relatives flew in from Hawaii to attend the trial. They declined to comment.
Fannin, who left through a back door in the courtroom, is scheduled for sentencing at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. He faces up to a year in jail. Fannin, who remains free on bail, told supporters after the verdict to keep his family and Elmo’s in their prayers.

“Maybe some healing can begin,” he told them after embracing relatives and friends.

On the day of the crash, Fannin was eastbound on State Highway 94 and broadsided Elmo as she turned from northbound Curtis Road west onto 94, authorities say.  

During a two-day trial, Fannin’s defense attorney Tim Bussey argued that because of a malfunction, all lights were green when Fannin’s Ford Explorer slammed into Elmo’s Honda Accord.

Two witnesses for the defense testified that lights sometimes malfunction at that intersection. Prosecutors called a Colorado Department of Transportation worker who testified about electronic controls designed to prevent that from happening.

Prosecutors Drew Reitman derided the issue as a “red herring” meant to distract jurors from Fannin’s changing statements. He told the jury that regardless of whether the light was red or green, Fannin admitted that he took his eyes off the road before the crash — admitting to careless driving.

Bentley disputed Bussey’s insistence that Colorado State Patrol investigators were immediately convinced of Fannin’s guilt and didn’t fully investigate his claim.

El Paso County Judge Karla J. Hansen presided.


Contact Lance Benzel: 636-0366 Twitter @lancebenzel
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