Driver in fatal crash says police cars didn’t have lights, sirens on

The driver in last week’s fatal crash with a Las Vegas police officer saw no emergency lights and heard no sirens before turning in front of the oncoming patrol car, according to a statement released Monday by his lawyer.

Calvin Darling, 45, saw three oncoming vehicles before the early Thursday crash, but they were a “sufficient distance away which led him to believe that he could safely cross Flamingo,” the statement from Sean P. Sullivan said.

Darling, an engineer at Bellagio, turned his pickup left in front of a patrol car driven by officer James Manor, 28, who died shortly after the violent collision at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Ravenwood Drive, near Tenaya Way just a few blocks from Darling’s house.

Darling’s account matches those of witnesses at the scene, including a man who said he was driving behind the police cars, who said they didn’t hear sirens or see emergency lights before the collision.

At a news conference the day of the crash, Sheriff Doug Gillespie was emphatic that both patrol cars had lights and sirens on as they headed to a domestic violence call.

Gillespie on Monday wouldn’t comment on Darling’s statement, saying the crash remained under investigation by the fatal crash team.

“We’re interviewing people and analyzing equipment,” Gillespie said.

Under the Metropolitan Police Department’s policy, officers can drive with lights and sirens, called Code 3, in four situations, including responding to a felony in progress, an officer who needs help in a volatile situation and a call where a citizen’s life could be in danger, officer Ramon Denby said.

If a patrol car is not responding Code 3, the officer is required to use due care and observe traffic laws, he said.

Before making his left turn, Darling checked the oncoming traffic and saw no lights, the statement said.

After the crash he told investigators he had “three or four beers,” police said. He smelled of alcohol and failed a field sobriety test that measures eye movements, leading to charges of drunken driving causing death and failing to yield to an emergency vehicle. He was released from jail a day later when a test revealed his blood-alcohol content was under the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Authorities intend to seek the same charges despite the test results, police said.

Darling’s first scheduled appearance in Las Vegas Justice Court Monday morning was postponed until June 8.

Gary Booker, a defense lawyer and former county prosecutor of vehicular crimes, said the district attorney’s office faces two big hurdles in proving the case.

First is Darling’s blood-alcohol level. Since it was under the 0.08 percent legal limit, prosecutors will have to rely on other evidence to prove he was under the influence.

“The fact he was released means something,” Booker said. “It doesn’t mean he didn’t do it. It doesn’t mean the DA can’t charge him. It just means it’s a more complicated case to prove.”

Second are the questions surrounding the lights and sirens and speed of the patrol cars. If the investigation shows the cars were speeding without their emergency lights or sirens on, Manor might share blame for the crash, he said.

“They might both be at fault,” Booker said.

Such a finding could exonerate Darling, depending on the charge, he said.

In his statement, Darling’s lawyer urged fairness.

“It is wrong for anyone to rush to judgment or pre-judge Mr. Darling when the law presumes his innocence,” the statement said. “But for the grace of God, anyone of us might find ourselves in this same situation and would ask no less of the public,”

 

Review-Journal reporter Maggie Lillis contributed to this report. Contact reporter Brian Haynes at haynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0281.

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