Police officer faces inquiry in fatal wreck; DA looking into accident in which Keller woman died
Mitch Mitchell; Star-Telegram Staff Writer
(FORT WORTH, Texas) -- The district attorney's office will review the case against a Trophy Club/Westlake police officer whose patrol car struck and fatally injured a Keller woman, Texas Department of Public Safety officials said Tuesday.
The district attorney's office will decide whether to present the case to a grand jury, recommend that charges be filed or do nothing, said Robert Hester, Tarrant County assistant district attorney.
"The involvement of a police officer may make us look at the case more closely," he said.
Officer Daniel S. Layton was on his way to an accident on U.S. 377 (Denton Highway) when Leesa Sheffield ran in front of his patrol car on a dark street, according to a Texas Department of Public Safety investigation. Sheffield, who had stopped to help a woman who had been in an accident, was pronounced dead at the scene on Feb. 5 after she was struck by Layton's patrol car, the accident report said.
"At the time, he was not driving at a safe speed, and we felt that he could have avoided striking the vehicle or the pedestrian had he been driving slower," said Sgt. Dewayne Dockery of the state DPS, the accident investigator's supervisor.
"Had he been driving slower, he might have been able to recognize any dangers and take evasive action that would have allowed him to avoid the vehicle and the pedestrian in the road."
State DPS officers are trying to determine how fast Layton was driving at the time of impact and plan to present the results of their investigation to the district attorney's office this week, Dockery said. Layton could not be reached to comment Tuesday.
If the case were to go before a grand jury, the most likely charges it might consider would be manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, said Fred Moss, a professor at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.
Trophy Club officials declined to comment Monday about possible disciplinary actions against Layton, who is on administrative leave with pay.
"At this point, it would be premature," Trophy Club Town Manager Donna Welsh said.
In response to the accident, the Trophy Club/Westlake Department of Public Safety Board has authorized an outside consulting firm to evaluate departmental procedures.
"It gets back to the question of do we have the proper amount of training," said Don Redding, Westlake town alderman and DPS Board chairman.
Trophy Club/Westlake DPS policy calls for officers to drive with "due regard for safety of all persons and never operate any vehicle with reckless disregard for the safety of life and/or property."
Trophy Club/Westlake officials acknowledged Friday that they knew Layton had been suspended twice after accidents while he was working as a Lake Worth police officer.
He was suspended for 10 days after an April 1999 two-vehicle accident that sent a woman to a hospital, and was suspended for 15 days after a November two-vehicle non-injury accident, according to Lake Worth city records and personnel.
The November accident occurred when Layton tried to change lanes and collided with another vehicle, said Capt. E.B. Finn of the Lake Worth Police Department.
Layton had been an officer with Trophy Club/Westlake for four months before the Feb. 5 accident.
The state DPS accident report is incomplete, and the town investigation of Layton's actions cannot begin without it, said David Miller, Trophy Club/Westlake director of public safety. The state DPS report will be complete by Friday at the earliest, Welsh said.
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