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Former Metro officer not guilty in fatal crash

Aron Carpenter Testifies

Leila Navidi

Former Metro Police Officer Aron Carpenter talks to his lawyer, Bret Whipple, after testifying during his trial on reckless driving charges at the Clark County Regional Justice Center Monday, July 18, 2011.

Updated Tuesday, July 19, 2011 | 6:21 p.m.

Aron Carpenter Testifies

Former Metro Police Officer Aron Carpenter testifies during his trial on reckless driving charges at the Clark County Regional Justice Center Monday, July 18, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Crash location

Former Metro Police officer Aron Carpenter has been found not guilty of two felony reckless driving charges stemming from a fatal crash during a pursuit last year.

The jury deliberated about an hour and 15 minutes before returning its verdict at 5:55 p.m.

One count of reckless driving was for the death of the man he was following, Ivan Carrillo, 27, and the other count was for injuring Andrea Hottel, a driver involved in a multiple-car pileup that occurred May 19, 2010, near the intersection of Lone Mountain Road and Lamb Boulevard.

In testimony Tuesday morning, an expert witness for the defense told the jury he saw nothing wrong with the actions taken by Carpenter as he followed Carrillo's black Honda through North Las Vegas.

"I think his actions are very reasonable," said Jeffrey Martin, a former San Jose police officer and detective who is an expert in police pursuits and police pursuit policy.

Martin told the jury he reviewed the case and has listened to testimony throughout the trial and thought Carpenter's actions were appropriate for the circumstances.

Martin also said that even if a policy was violated it was different than violating a law in that it was not a criminal act. He also said that an alleged failure to discontinue a police pursuit was not against the law.

Martin said that because Carpenter had seen Carrillo's car driving erratically, it was not against policy to continue following him with his lights and siren turned off. That's because Carpenter thought a crash was about to happen and he wanted to be in the position of helping the victims, Martin said.

However, Chief Deputy District Attorney L.J. O'Neale read from Metro policy that irresponsible and reckless driving are prohibited.

"That's the policy and that's the law," O'Neale said.

Carpenter was fired from Metro in March after having been on unpaid administrative leave since the incident.

He is one of two officers who prosecutors say ignored multiple orders from a sergeant to stop the chase after they initially were unable to pull the driver over for allegedly driving under the influence.

The other officer, Andrew Ubbens, pleaded no contest in January to a misdemeanor reckless driving charge and was fined $500 and ordered to perform 50 hours of community service. Ubbens, who was also on unpaid administrative leave, has been reinstated during a probationary period.

Carpenter, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, testified on Monday, taking the jury through the pursuit by using a video simulation and the tape of the police radio traffic during that time.

He said he followed commands to stop the pursuit, which meant shutting off his emergency lights and sirens and continuing at a normal speed. He said he did so because he thought he should be close by in case Carrillo crashed.

During the trial, Carpenter's supervising sergeant said he told the two officers to stop the car chase three times, but they continued to pursue Carrillo without using their emergency lights or sirens.

The sergeant told the officers to stop the pursuit because of public safety concerns. Because the Honda Civic possibly had been involved in a domestic violence situation earlier in the day, the sergeant decided police might instead be able to identify the suspect that way or by the vehicle's registration information, according to the police report.

Ubbens told Metro investigators that he unsuccessfully tried a common police pursuit maneuver, called a PIT maneuver, that would disable the Civic, according to the arrest report. Instead, officials allege the PIT maneuver didn't work and caused the suspect to only momentarily lose control.

Officials said Carpenter continued the pursuit once the suspect regained control and followed him to the intersection of Lamb Boulevard and Lone Mountain Road.

Carpenter has said as he was following Carrillo, Carrillo slowed down suddenly and the two vehicles might have made contact, although there was no conclusive evidence they did.

Carpenter said the noise he heard might have also been from his ABS braking system on his patrol car.

After that, Carrillo appeared to lose control of car, went across three lanes and into oncoming traffic on Lamb Boulevard, where it was struck by Hottel's Ford Contour and caused a four-vehicle accident, according to the arrest report.

Carrillo and Hottel were taken to University Medical Center, where Carrillo died a short time later, officials said. Police said a toxicology report later concluded that Carrillo had methamphetamine in his system, among other substances.

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