10/12/2007

N.M. officer escorting Bush made fatal error

Report of death of Rio Rancho officer in Bush motorcade complete
By Maggie Shepard
The Albuquerque Tribune

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — In the time it takes for just a glance, the Rio Rancho motorcycle police officer killed in the Aug. 27 motorcade of President Bush missed his chance to safely navigate a turn.

According to the Albuquerque Police Department's final report on the crash that killed Rio Rancho police Officer Germaine Casey, 40, the experienced rider was attempting to pass at a safe distance in front of the president's limousine when he topped a hill and saw another motorcycle officer stopped on the side of the road with a pedestrian.

"This small diversion would have taken his focus off of his original plan to negotiate the curve," the report's conclusion reads.

Lt. Todd Parkins, in charge of the motorcade for Bush's visit to a Sen. Pete Domenici re-election fund-raiser, said that if indeed this is what Casey was looking at as he approached the curve, a mere glance would have been enough for him to lose control.

"Where you look is where you go," Parkins said.

And Casey was already close to the right curb as the motorcade entered the curve at Albuquerque International Sunport on the president's return to his plane, the report says.

Casey mistakenly applied his brakes at some point in the turn, Capt. Ron Hetes said this morning, causing his motorcycle to stop turning in the direction of the curve and start traveling in a straight line, which sent Casey into a curb.

Casey's bike struck the curb and launched into the air. The officer struck at least one tree, suffering fatal injuries.

Hetes and Parkins said a communication malfunction that cut off outside agencies from hearing the APD and Sheriff's Department radio frequency did not play into Casey's death.

Still, the fact that the motorcade was just a few hundred feet from its destination and that some officers had arrived at the end in order to make a salute line for the president is not lost on Hetes and Parkins.

Hetes said that when motorcade participants reach the destination they generally feel a bit of relief because the event is so intense.

Motorcade officers must pay attention to their driving, the president's whereabouts, outside risks such as vehicles backing out of driveways, pedestrians walking into the road or security threats such as suspicious packages, Hetes said.

They also must watch for fellow officers' hand signals indicating stops, turns and changes in the route, all while keeping a safe distance from the president's limo.

Hetes said the president's security crews will take action against people who come too close to the limo, even if it is a law enforcement officer.

Hetes and Parkins said they assume Casey was speeding ahead of the president's limousine to ensure he was far enough ahead of it when he pulled back into the motorcade.

That goal, combined with the officer in the road, Casey's proximity to the curb and his use of brakes combined to cause the crash, Hetes said.

"It all melded into an awful, unfortunate perfect storm," Hetes said.

Hetes presented the report to Casey's widow and family Wednesday night.

"She is resilient," Hetes said of Casey's wife, choking up a bit himself. "She is remarkably strong. A good wife."


© 2006 The Albuquerque Tribune

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