Family sues Pinal County deputy, Babeu for fatal accident - CBS 5 - KPHO

Family sues Pinal County deputy, Babeu for fatal accident

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Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu (Source: CBS 5 News) Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu (Source: CBS 5 News)
FLORENCE, AZ (CBS5) -

A lawsuit has been filed in the case of a fatal accident involving an on-duty Pinal County deputy.  

The family of Jeffrey Sorenson, 57, a retired Army officer and former Department of Defense executive, filed a wrongful death lawsuit naming Deputy Robert Steele, Pinal County and Sheriff Paul Babeu. 

[Click here to read the lawsuit (PDF)]

The crash happened Aug. 30, 2012, about 10 p.m. on U.S. 60 near Gold Canyon Ranch, east of the Valley. No one saw the accident happen.  

Steele's patrol car slammed into Sorenson's truck. Sorenson was thrown from his truck and pronounced dead at the scene. Steele was seriously injured and airlifted to the hospital.

Six days later, Department of Public Safety detectives interviewed Steele at the hospital. He had no reported memory and there were no witnesses, so DPS had to rely on technology and science to reconstruct the crash.

The exhaustive investigation determined Sorenson was turning left into his subdivision and pulled out in front of the on-duty deputy, who was westbound on U.S. 60. The report indicates the deputy "T-boned" Sorenson's vehicle.

Steele was found to be speeding, and evidence indicates a possibility of inattentive driving. The patrol car's GPS system recorded Steele going 97 mph at the time of the crash.

Other on-board computers indicate the deputy never applied his brakes before impact. Records show the deputy was not responding to a call, and witnesses who saw him speed past them say he did not have his police lights on or siren activated.

An autopsy revealed Sorenson's alcohol level was 0.21, more than twice the legal limit. He also was not wearing a seatbelt.

Despite Sorenson's alcohol level, DPS investigators determined Steele's driving was so reckless that a manslaughter charge was appropriate. They turned the report over to newly elected Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles, who refused to press charges.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Sorenson's wife, daughter, son and mother. The suit claims negligence on the part of Steele, who at multiple times before the accident was clocked at speeds over 100 mph. The suit also blames Pinal County and the Babeu for not properly supervising and training Steele.

The suit seeks damages for grief, loss of income and compensatory damages, as well as attorney's fees.

Pinal County and the sheriff's office would not comment on the pending litigation.  

While Steele was never prosecuted for manslaughter, he was given a 12-hour suspension for violating policy.  He is appealing that punishment.

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