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Police findings that were dismissed by DA faulted El Paso County GOP chair in pedestrian's death

April 21, 2017 Updated: April 22, 2017 at 10:41 am
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photo - Trevor Dierdorff. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette.
Trevor Dierdorff. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette. 

The head of El Paso County's Republican Party reportedly stopped his vehicle for one second and failed to check his rearview mirrors before backing into and fatally injuring a pedestrian while reversing to reach an angled parking spot on Tejon Street last month, according to details released by police on Friday.

Trevor Dierdorff, 45, will not face charges in the March 28 crash that led to the death of longtime Platte Floral owner Mel Tolbert, 79. Hours after Colorado Springs police announced Wednesday that Dierdorff would be cited for careless driving causing death, a misdemeanor, and failing to exercise due care, a Class A traffic infraction, the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office said it was dismissing all charges against him.

District Attorney Dan May said they couldn't prosecute because Tolbert, who died of his injuries April 2, was jaywalking 25 feet from the crosswalk, and Dierdorff had reportedly checked his rear-view camera before reversing.

But the documents released by Colorado Springs police on Friday, including an analysis of surveillance camera footage of the crash, show that officers determined otherwise.

"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," Detective Daniel Smoker wrote.

The video reportedly shows that Tolbert, who was crossing from the east side of Tejon Street, was visible through Dierdorff's driver door window as his vehicle passed the pedestrian. According to the footage, Dierdorff was driving south on Tejon Street and reversed - to pull into an angled parking spot behind him, he later told police - as another vehicle going south approached. Dierdorff was "racing" to position his vehicle for the parking spot before the second vehicle arrived, Smoker wrote.

"Thus, Mr. Dierdorff's attention is focused on the vehicle approaching from the rear, not the potential hazards near his vehicle or in his blind spots," Smoker said in the report.

Dierdorff's Toyota Land Cruiser is equipped with a rearview camera, which has an audio alert and a notice on the monitor that reads, "Check surroundings for safety," Smoker wrote in an accident report. The detective tested the audio alert and observed that the motion sensor sounded when he was about 3½ feet from the rear bumper of the car.

While police found that Tolbert violated the law by not crossing the street at a crosswalk, state law also stipulates that "every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway," and that any driver who drives "in a careless or imprudent manner," without regard for other traffic, is guilty of careless driving.

And, drivers who are downtown, where jaywalking is commonplace, should "exercise caution that reflect these conditions," Smoker added in the report.

The District Attorney's Office also cited Colorado law in its decision not to prosecute, saying pedestrians must yield to vehicles in the roadway when they're not in a crosswalk, and it is not illegal to drive in reverse on a roadway.

"We cannot successfully prosecute a case when the pedestrian is the one who's breaking the law and state law is so clear on it," May said.

The 31-page accident report recounts what happened in the seconds leading up to the crash, which occurred near the corner of Platte Avenue and Tejon Street at about 7:30 a.m.

Dierdorff told police that he and Tolbert were in the area to have breakfast at the El Paso Club.

After noticing the empty spot, Dierdorff stopped at a green light and turned his head to the right, simultaneously shifting gears, police said in the report. The vehicle was motionless for one second, before he reversed for roughly 3½ seconds and accelerated backwards for nearly one more second. Based on human perception-reaction times, Dierdorff saw Tolbert just before the crash, but was unable to brake before the impact, Smoker said in the report. Dierdorff told police he stopped "when he heard and felt a small 'bump.'"

When he got out of his vehicle, he saw "his friend Mel" lying on the ground, he told police.

Dierdorff "tried to render aid until some of the bystanders took over," one officer wrote in the report.

When Smoker told Dierdorff his vehicle would be held as evidence and the district attorney would decide if it could be released, Dierdorff mentioned he had seen Dan May the previous evening.

Dierdorff went to Memorial Hospital, where Tolbert was taken following the crash. Smoker reported that he was "sad, remorseful, and in a state of shock" when he talked to the detective at the hospital.

The Gazette previously reported that Tolbert's wife of 48 years, Dianna, texted Dierdorff that she did not want him to be charged in her husband's death.

"That was a lie," she said when contacted Friday for comment on the police report. She did not elaborate, referring further inquiries to her lawyer, whom she did not identify.

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