Deputy Sean Pearce was ineligible for defensive-driving class because his speeding ticket involved a fatality, a Glendale judge found earlier this month.
Pearce, a Maricopa County Sheriff's office detective and son of recalled state lawmaker Russell Pearce, had been going 81 mph in a 40-mph-zone while tracking a murder suspect just prior to the December 2013 crash. A surveillance video recorded the violent impact as Pearce's full-size SUV plowed into the Nissan Cube driven by John Edward Harding, 63.
Last year, County Attorney Bill Montgomery decided that Pearce would face no serious charges in Harding's death. The deputy had been on-duty, Montgomery explained, and a third vehicle had obscured the views of both Pearce and Harding.
The city of Glendale moved forward with a traffic ticket, charging Pearce with criminal speeding. But as we reported last month, the city's case took an odd turn.
We put in a request for public records with Glendale in early March, asking for information on the resolution of the traffic ticket. We found out that Glendale City Judge Manuel Delgado had allowed Pearce to take a defensive-driving class for the violation. The class, as many of you may know, wipes out the penalty points from a driver's record. It costs about $100, but the driver pays no other fine.
It seems our records request spurred someone to tell Delgado what we were working on -- and the judge was apparently surprised.
He promptly ordered attorneys on both sides to come to a special hearing, during which Delgado said that when he agreed Pearce could take a driving class, he hadn't known the speeding violation was associated with a fatality. Arizona law states that fatal traffic cases are ineligible for defensive driving, the judge pointed out during the hearing.
Pearce had taken the class about a week before that hearing. His lawyer, Patrick Gann, argued that his client was eligible because it was the third vehicle -- not Pearce's speeding -- that caused the crash.
But Delgado, in another hearing earlier this month, ruled that Pearce was, in fact, ineligible.
Pearce entered a guilty plea for the misdemeanor speeding charge before another judge was ordered to pay the $714 fine, Glendale spokesman Joe Hengemuehler said. It was the same sentence for which the city's prosecution office had asked previously.
We also found out that Phillip Garrow was the prosecutor in the case. It's unclear why Delgado wasn't told by Garrow that Pearce's case involved a fatality. Rob Walecki, Glendale City Prosecutor, didn't return a call.
Delgado, in last month's hearing, expressed his displeasure at the situation: "I just felt that I was not being given some details that should have been given to me. So obviously, I had some concern about candor in the court."
The next step will be for the sheriff's office to finish its internal investigation of the case. One question the public should have answered is whether the murder suspect Pearce was following was ever arrested.
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Harding's family has a $5 million lawsuit pending in county court.
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