WELD COUNTY, Colo. — A Weld County District Court Judge on Friday convicted a Fort Lupton Police officer of two misdemeanor charges but acquitted her of the most serious charge, a felony, after she placed a handcuffed woman inside a patrol car that was parked on train tracks and then hit by a train.
The trial for Jordan Steinke began Monday, and closing arguments were held Thursday. Steinke waived her right to a jury trial, which meant that Judge Timothy Kerns decided the case and found her not guilty of reckless attempted manslaughter.
She was found guilty of:
- Reckless endangerment
- Third-degree assault-reckless
Kerns said he found that prosecutors failed to prove that Steinke acted knowingly and therefore could not find her guilty of the reckless attempted manslaughter charge. Kerns said he found that Steinke did observe the railroad tracks but didn't "appreciate the risk." Her assault conviction could impact her ability to serve as a law enforcement officer in Colorado.
Yareni Rios, the woman who was eventually placed in the patrol car, was accused of pointing a gun at another driver during a road rage incident last September. Platteville Police Officer Pablo Vazquez pulled Rios over, and when he did, he parked his patrol car on a set of railroad tracks.
Steinke arrived as backup to assist with the felony traffic stop and eventually placed a handcuffed Rios inside the Platteville patrol car. Not long after, a freight train hit the vehicle with Rios still inside. Rios survived but suffered serious injuries.
"While she was consciously aware," Kerns said. "She did not take the substantial step creating the risk. She did not park the vehicle on the tracks. She was randomly assigned the duty to cuff and detain given the roles required by the high-risk stop."
Prosecutors argue that Steinke disregarded the obvious danger. They pointed out two railroad crossing signs that are clearly visible in video footage from the night of the collision. They also noted that Steinke worked in an area where railroad crossings are commonly encountered.
"The most substantial risk on that scene that night was those fixed train tracks on which an 11,000-ton-plus freight train came down, and she consciously disregarded that risk," Deputy District Attorney Christopher Jewkes said during closing arguments.
Steinke testified on Tuesday that she chose to place Rios inside that vehicle because it was "closest" and said the placement was "temporary" as law enforcement worked to process the scene. Her attorneys argued that she was so focused on the potential dangers of the traffic stop that she did not perceive the train tracks.
"A person who is not aware her conduct creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk is simply not acting recklessly, even if she should have been aware," said defense attorney Erin O'Neill. "Your Honor cannot hold a defendant if she was actually unaware of a risk even if a reasonable person would have perceived it."
Steinke's defense team also noted that Fort Lupton Police Officer Ryan Thomeczek, who also arrived to assist on the call, said he did not see the tracks.
"Ryan for his part, did not know they were at a railroad track until he saw the train," O'Neill said. "He also cited, the darkness, the tense situation and other factors. Ryan's lack of awareness of the railroad tracks lends credibility to Officer Steinke's experience."
Steinke is scheduled for sentencing on Sept. 15 at 3:30 p.m.
Vasquez is charged with eight misdemeanor counts and is due in court next month.
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