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Officers Charged For Putting Handcuffed Woman In Patrol Car Parked On Train Tracks

Weld County, CO – Two officers were brought up on felony charges on Monday for leaving a handcuffed woman in the back of a police car that was parked on railroad tracks and struck by a train at high speed in September.

Platteville Police Officer Pablo Vazquez parked his police cruiser on train tracks near U.S. 85 and County Road 36 when he stopped 20-year-old Yareni Rios-Gonzalez in connection with a road rage investigation on Sept. 16, KUSA reported.

Fort Lupton Police Officer Jordan Steinke placed the handcuffed Rios-Gonzalez in the backseat of the patrol car and shut the door.

Moments later, as Officers Vazquez and Steinke searched the suspect’s vehicle for a handgun she allegedly brandished at another driver, a Union Pacific freight train struck the police car parked on the tracks, KUSA reported.

The Weld County District Attorney’s Office filed charges against Officers Vazquez and Steinke on Nov. 7.

Officer Vazquez has been charged with five counts of reckless endangerment, one count of obstructing a highway or other passageway, one count of careless driving, and one count of parking where prohibited, according to KUSA.

Officer Steinke, who actually placed Rios-Gonzalez in the back seat of the patrol car parked on the tracks, is charged with one count each of criminal attempt to commit manslaughter, second-degree assault, and reckless endangerment.

Rios-Gonzalez was seriously injured when the fast-moving train slammed into the vehicle where she was trapped, KUSA reported.

She suffered nine broken ribs, a fractured sternum, a broken arm, and a broken leg in the crash.

Her attorney said prosecutors told him that they would be filing charges against Rios-Gonzalez in connection with the road-rage incident that precipitated her being taken into custody the night of the crash, KUSA reported.

The district attorney’s office said all three defendants were issued summonses rather than taken into custody.

The Fort Lupton Police Department released bodycam and dashcam video in late September of the terrifying incident that occurred at about 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 16 on the railroad tracks near U.S. 85 and Weld 38 in Weld County, the Denver Post reported.

Shortly before that, Fort Lupton police had received a call about a road rage incident involving a gun.

A Platteville police officer pulled over the suspect’s vehicle and Rios-Gonzalez stopped her truck just past the railroad tracks on Weld 38, the Denver Post reported.

The officer stopped his car behind the suspect’s pickup with his vehicle on the train tracks.

Bodycam and dashcam video released on Sept. 23 showed two Fort Lupton police officers arrived on the scene to back up the Platteville police officer, the Denver Post reported.

Officers were able to talk Rios-Gonzalez out of her pickup truck, handcuffed her, and then put her in the back of the Platteville patrol vehicle parked on the tracks while they searched her vehicle.

Video shows the Platteville officer and a Fort Lupton officer checked Rios-Gonzalez’s vehicle for other passengers, and then searched it for the gun she had reportedly brandished during the alleged road-rage incident, the Denver Post reported.

The other Fort Lupton officer returned to the patrol car where Rios-Gonzalez was being held and stood by holding a rifle.

The video showed the officers near the suspect’s vehicle were discussing whether the Rios-Gonzalez might have tossed her gun out the window when the first train horn can be heard in the distance.

But it took those officers at least 15 seconds to notice the train actually headed their way, the Denver Post reported.

As the sound of the train’s horn got louder, one officer asked, “Is that Hart?”

“No, that’s uh… time check?” the female officer searching the car with him looked at her watch. “Oh s—t. Oh my God. Oh my God!”

The video showed the officer started toward the vehicle parked on the tracks.

“Move your car!” the other officer can be heard yelling in the video.

Then he yelled “stay back!”

Video showed the officer standing next to the patrol unit parked on the tracks heard the train’s horn and spun in a circle trying to figure out where it was coming from.

It appeared he realized the train was headed for them at the last second and he stepped away from the car about one second before the train slammed into it, dashcam video showed.

The video showed the train hit the Platteville police car with its front passenger door still open and Rios-Gonzalez handcuffed in the back, the Denver Post reported.

Written by
Sandy Malone

Managing Editor - Twitter/@SandyMalone_ - Prior to joining The Police Tribune, Sandy wrote the Politics.Net column for the Wall Street Journal and was managing editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine. More recently, she was an internationally-syndicated columnist for Conde Nast (BRIDES), The Huffington Post, and Monsters and Critics. Sandy is married to a retired police captain and former SWAT commander.

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Written by Sandy Malone


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