Careless driving by a then-El Paso County sheriff’s deputy killed an elderly Peyton couple and broke a man’s back, a judge ruled Friday in convicting him on all counts.
Quinlan Linebaugh, 30, was found guilty in the deaths of Kenneth and Dorothy Wuerfele after a July 2018 chain-reaction crash that started when Linebaugh attempted to pass two cars on U.S. 24 in the face of an oncoming dump truck.
After Linebaugh’s squad car clipped the truck, the commercial vehicle veered into the opposite lane and hit a pickup driven by the Wuerfeles, killing them instantly.
The verdict by County Judge Laura Findorff capped a four-day bench trial at which attorneys for Linebaugh tried to prove that the dump truck driver, James Stutsman, overreacted with deadly results by swerving when he saw Linebaugh
“It seemed to be a natural reaction,” Findorff said in rejecting the argument.
Defendants in Colorado have the option of requesting a trial by judge instead a jury. The judge handed down her verdict after roughly four hours of deliberation.
Linebaugh, who barely reacted to the verdict, could face up to four years in jail when he is sentenced Dec. 12.
Prosecutors wouldn’t say if they intend to request jail time. He was convicted of two counts of careless driving resulting in death and two counts of careless driving resulting in injury.
Linebaugh, then a six-year deputy, was running late to a shift that began at 2 p.m. when the crash occurred at roughly 1:30 p.m., authorities said.
“That son-of-a-gun sped up like a rocket, and I got out of the way,” Stutsman told the judge in his testimony, saying he had no alternative but to slam on the brakes to avoid a head-on crash.
Stutsman said he has had two metal bars inserted in his back, which was broken in the crash.
Two defense experts said Stutsman could have been going 15-20 mph faster than the 70 mph as estimated by the Colorado State Patrol, based on what they called a flawed investigation.
One of Linebaugh’s attorneys, Carrie Lynn Slinkard, said Stutsman caused the crash with his decision to swerve into traffic, instead of directing his vehicle into “an entire field that was on the right.”
“The duty to exercise due care belongs to every driver,” Slinkard said.
But Linebaugh was responsible for initiating a safe pass, and if the dump truck was speeding toward him, as alleged, he should have abandoned the maneuver and merged back into his lane, Findorff said in handing down her decision.
Linebaugh was fired in August 2018, shortly after charges were filed. He declined to comment on his way out of the courtroom.
Supporters of the Wuerfeles, who sat quietly through a trial filled with bracing images of the crash’s violent aftermath, again burst into tears. They declined to comment amid a possible wrongful death action.
No lawsuit has been filed, and no claims paid, El Paso County spokesman Ryan Parsell said this week.
The Gazette’s Liz Henderson and Olivia Prentzel contributed to this report.