N.M. officer in fatal crash had no radio communication

The failure prevented Rio Rancho police officers from communicating with APD units commanding the escort.

By T.J. Wilham
The Albuquerque Journal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. A Rio Rancho police officer who died in a motorcycle crash during President Bush's motorcade Monday did not have radio contact with the officers commanding the escort.

Albuquerque police officials said Tuesday they didn't believe the lack of communication contributed to the crash that claimed the life of officer Germaine Casey.

But they also said communication will be scrutinized when the incident is examined by a multi-jurisdictional board.

"Communication is the No. 1 priority of any operation of this magnitude," Albuquerque Deputy Police Chief Michael Castro said. "What occurred with the communication system was a unique set of circumstances that has not happened in the recent past."

Moments before President Bush left a fundraiser for Sen. Pete Domenici in Los Ranchos, a computer system that links the radio systems of the four agencies involved in the escort went down, according to police and 911 records.

The system was set up because Rio Rancho and State Police do not use the same frequencies as APD and the Sheriff's Office.

The failure prevented Rio Rancho police officers from communicating with APD units commanding the escort.

Without the radio contact, Casey may not have heard an order for all motorcycle officers to stop passing because the motorcade was nearly finished.

Before Casey crashed on Sunport Boulevard, an APD officer announced over the radio that the Secret Service wanted everyone to stop passing, according to police and 911 records. That means the escort is coming to an end and officers do not need to block more roads or pass the president's car, Castro said.

Twenty-one seconds after the order, an APD unit called out: "Motor down. Motor down. We have a motor down. Start an (ambulance) immediately," according to 911 tapes obtained by the Journal.

Castro said the communication system used for Monday's motorcade has been used successfully several times before. The computer link was being operated by city computer technicians.

Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz said every Rio Rancho and State Police officer was teamed with a city officer, who could have communicated orders to their counterparts with hand signals.

It's unclear if anything was communicated to Casey or if there was time to do so.

On the tape, units can be heard commenting on the communication problem. Fifteen seconds after the order went out for everyone to stop passing, an APD unit called out, "A State Police officer is coming up. I don't think he is on this (frequency)."

Seconds later, officers called out that Casey had crashed.

The police chief said there were multiple scenarios that could have contributed to the crash.

He said investigators are reconstructing the crash and are looking into the possibility that video of the incident exists. Two cameras - one on top of the airport building and another on top of a nearby hotel - were pointing in the direction of the crash site.

"The fact is, this is a single vehicle accident," Schultz said. "The last thing we want to do right now is speculate as to what may or may not have contributed."

According to witnesses, it appeared Casey had accelerated and was trying to catch up to a group of officers when the wreck occurred.

Witnesses told the Journal that Casey was by himself and that two officers were close behind.

Rio Rancho police spokesman John Francis said Tuesday his agency was already considering the possibility of replacing or improving its communication equipment.

Less than four minutes after Casey crashed, an officer with President Bush called out, "Any unit with that motor that is down, the President would like to have an updated condition."

Another officer responded, "They are doing CPR."

Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal

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