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Drivers in two pedestrian deaths get different treatment from district attorney

August 5, 2017 Updated: August 10, 2017 at 5:09 pm
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Clothes and shoes remain in a pile on the ground where Mel Tolbert was hit by a vehicle driven by Trevor Dierdorff on March 28 on Tejon Street in downtown Colorado Springs. Tolbert died April 2, and all charges against Dierdorff were dismissed. (By Kaitlin Durbin, The Gazette)

Both drivers were backing up when they hit and fatally injured pedestrians who weren't in crosswalks. Police recommended charging both with careless driving resulting in death, among other offenses.

All charges against one, Trevor Dierdorff, the head of the El Paso County Republican Party, were dismissed within hours by 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May, also a Republican.

The other driver, Ricardo Trevizo, will appear in court Aug. 15.

The handling of the two pedestrian deaths, which have similarities as well as differences, raises questions that the DA's Office has been reluctant to answer. Repeated efforts to find out why Trevizo and Dierdorff are being treated differently have been met with silence: The DA's Office has not responded to phone messages and emails.

In a 31-page report on the collision, a police Major Accident Unit investigator said Dierdorff, 45, was "racing" in reverse when he struck longtime Platte Floral owner Mel Tolbert as he crossed Tejon Street on March 28.

Dierdorff, according to police, was heading south on Tejon, looking for a parking space, and had pulled up to Platte Avenue when he began backing up to pull into an angled space he had passed.

Another vehicle was coming up behind him on Tejon, and Dierdorff was trying to reach the space ahead of it, the accident report said.

Tolbert, 79, was crossing Tejon more than 25 feet from the crosswalk at Tejon and Platte when he was struck by Dierdorff's Toyota Land Cruiser. Tolbert was knocked to the ground and suffered a fatal injury.

Dierdorff, whose SUV was equipped with a rear camera, said he "started to back up when he heard and felt a small 'bump,'" the accident report said.

Tolbert died April 2. Seventeen days later, police cited Dierdorff on suspicion of careless driving causing death, a misdemeanor, and failing to exercise due care, a Class A traffic infraction. Three hours after the charges were announced, May dismissed them.

In dismissing the charges, May noted that Tolbert was jaywalking against the light when he was struck.

Dierdorff, he said, hadn't done anything illegal: he'd checked his rearview camera before backing up, and did not see anyone behind him. It's not illegal to drive in reverse, the DA's Office pointed out, and pedestrians who are not in a crosswalk must yield to vehicles.

The Major Accident Unit investigator said Dierdorff shared in the blame.

"The backward movement of the vehicle was not done safely when it hit a pedestrian," Detective Daniel Smoker wrote in the accident report. Dierdorff didn't check his rear blind spots for hazards or "attempt to locate the pedestrian standing on the side of the road that had begun to cross behind him."

"From the video, 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 blind spots to his left rear and right rear, and ascertain it was safe to back up," Smoker wrote.

Smoker told Dierdorff his vehicle would be held as evidence until the DA released it.

"In response, Mr. Dierdorff said he had just seen Dan May the prior evening," Smoker wrote.

Trevizo, 26, also was driving in reverse when he struck a pedestrian in the road.

Trevizo was heading south on Baylor Drive on May 11 and had gone past a stop sign when he came to East San Miguel Street, police said in a 15-page accident report.

With another vehicle coming at him on San Miguel, Trevizo backed up on Baylor behind the stop sign, police said. Meanwhile, Manuel Peak had begun crossing Baylor behind him. Trevizo's Honda Accord struck the 86-year-old Peak, knocking him down.

Police recommended charging Trevizo with careless driving resulting in injury, as well as failure to display proof of insurance and driving under restraint. After Peak died on May 18, the charges were upgraded to careless driving resulting in death, the same charge police recommended against Dierdorff.

According to the accident report, Trevizo said he "checked his rearview mirror prior to reversing but did not see anyone."

"When reversing, Ricardo checked his mirror a second time and realized that he had just hit a pedestrian with the back of his car," the report said.

The accident report noted that Trevizo had seen Peak walking with a dog, and the dog appeared to be pulling Peak. Trevizo "thought that the dog might have pulled Manuel into the street behind him after the car had already begun to reverse," the report said.

Trevizo's attorney, Joshua McDowell, could not be reached for comment.

Both drivers should have been more careful, according to the head of a safe driving organization.

Once a driver passes a space - as Dierdorff did - backing up can put others in danger, said Maile Gray, executive director of the nonprofit Drive Smart Colorado. Instead, the driver should go around the block and see if the space is still there, she said.

"That's only thinking of yourself and the kind of hurry that you're in, and not thinking of the danger that you're actually potentially putting forth," Gray said.

She did not address any case in particular, but instead spoke generally about safe driving practices.

"People expect you to go forward in a lane of travel in one direction. The minute that you throw a curve ball into there, you can cause real chaos because things happen in the blink of an eye," she said. "A vehicle could come up right behind you. A pedestrian could not be expecting you to do that and could be jaywalking . and not know that you're about to back up."

A driver that goes too far into an intersection - as Trevizo did - also shouldn't compound the error by backing up unless it's "absolutely safe to do so," Gray said.

"If there is nobody behind them in the crosswalk, or if the vehicle behind them is giving them space, they need to back up," Gray said.

If not, they should probably stay put, she said.

"Ultimately, you as the driver of the vehicle are the one really responsible for the life of everyone around you," she said. "You, as the driver of the vehicle, even if someone is jaywalking, that's not going to matter. If you hit and kill that person, you are going to be the one who is in trouble."

Editor's note: A previous version of this article had incorrect information about Ricardo Trevizo’s next court appearance. His pretrial conference is set for Aug. 15

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Contact Ellie Mulder: 636-0198

Twitter: @lemarie

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