Adams County Sheriff’s commander who caused fatal crash sentenced to probation, community service

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ADAMS COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — The Adams County Sheriff’s commander who caused a crash that killed one woman and injured another was sentenced to two years of probation on Friday. Judge Leroy Kirby also ordered Cmdr. John Paul Bitterman to pay restitution and the cost of persecution, and perform 250 hours of community service, according to the 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

On March 28, 2019, John Paul Bitterman was on duty  in an unmarked patrol car. He ran a stop sign on East 88th Avenue and Highway 79, crashing into a Nissan Murano.

Eira Saenz Sandoval, 85, died in the crash. She was a passenger in the Nissan.

Sandoval’s daughter, 58-year-old Maria Del Refugio Corral Saenz, was driving. She suffered a fractured leg and sternum.

According to the 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, evidence presented during Bitterman’s two-day trial showed he had not been dispatched (nor had he dispatched himself) to a call before the crash. He also did not turn on his vehicle’s lights or siren.

“Evidence also showed that he was logging into his computer system while driving in the moments before the crash,” the DA’s office said in a statement.

The DA’s office says data retrieved from the patrol car showed Bitterman slowed to 29 mph two seconds before the crash but was then accelerating with the pedal to the floor at the time of the collision.

The speed limit in the area is 55 mph.

“The Colorado State Patrol concluded that Bitterman likely was distracted when he failed to stop at a clearly posted stop sign at the intersection. The State Patrol investigation found that neither vehicle showed signs of slamming on the brakes prior to impact,” the DA’s office said.

Moreover, CSP found sun glare was not an issue for Bitterman but could have been for Saenz.

An Adams County jury convicted Bitterman of careless driving resulting in death and careless driving causing bodily injury.

“There truly is no way to mend the devastation that the defendant caused to this family,” Deputy District Attorney Danielle Warly told the court. “Eira survived breast cancer only to be killed before her time. Maria, with a broken sternum and a broken leg, screaming for help, had to watch her mother die. The defendant swore an oath to protect the public and hold others accountable for their actions. Shouldn’t those same standards apply to him?”

Kirby spoke about Bitterman’s decision to floor the accelerator moments before impact.

“You thought you could make it through,” the judge said, according to the DA’s office. “We all make mistakes. You are a commander in the Adams County Sheriff’s Office. I would hope that police officers, of all people, would show more care in what you do. I see police cars zipping around me with no lights on all the time. They think because they are in a police car, I can do whatever I want. That is not true.”

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