A Dallas, Texas police officer responding from one call to another was driving over the speed limit by 29 mph when his police car fatally struck a 10-year-old, according to police officials with knowledge of the investigation.
Senior Cpl. Michael Vaughn, a five-year veteran, was going 69 mph when he struck Cole Berardi on his bike on a dark portion of Belt Line Road in southeast Dallas, said police officials who asked that their names not be published. Cpl. Vaughn’s lights and siren were not activated as required.
Video shot by the camera mounted in Cpl. Vaughn’s car shows that one second passed between when Cole became visible to the officer and when he was struck, the sources said.
Traffic experts say a motorist needs at least 1.5 seconds to recognize and react to an obstacle in the roadway.
Authorities are conducting a “time and distance study” to determine whether traveling at the speed limit of 40 mph would have given Cpl. Vaughn the time to react and avoid hitting Cole. The study is expected to be completed by Wednesday.
“At 69 mph, it’s not physically possible to see, make a conscious decision, take your foot off the gas and turn the steering wheel,” said one police official close to the investigation. “If you’re going 40, could you have done that? Probably not, but that’s the whole point of the time and distance study.”
Cpl. Vaughn’s accident comes on the heels of other controversial driving incidents involving officers.
Last month, an officer was severely injured as he raced more than 20 miles at speeds topping 100 mph to catch up to a police chase. He was not authorized to participate in that chase.
Twenty-one officers, including the injured officer, are under investigation for driving excessive speeds without authorization in that incident. The incident also prompted Police Chief David Kunkle to appoint a review panel to look at how officers respond to emergencies.
Brett Inman, Cole’s stepfather, said Monday that the family planned to consult with an attorney later this week about the accident that took his son’s life.
“Cole was the most amazing kid that you would ever have wanted to meet,” Mr. Inman said. “He was such a sweetheart.”
Assistant Chief Charles Cato also said he could not comment on the accident because police are awaiting the results of the preliminary investigation.
Cpl. Vaughn is likely to be placed on restricted duty. It is not clear at this point what, if any, discipline he will face and it is also likely the incident will be referred to a grand jury for review. State law does not allow officers to drive above the speed limit without activating their lights and sirens.
The accident happened about 7:30 p.m. Friday. Cole had asked his mother if he could ride his bike to a nearby store, where a friend worked.
“Cole was told not to leave the house, but he snuck out while his mother was in the bathroom,” Mr. Inman said.
As he headed out on his green bicycle along the pitch-black road, Cpl. Vaughn and another officer were following each other with Cpl. Vaughn in the lead. The in-car video shows Cole, who was not wearing a helmet, cut across the curved street just north of Kleburg Road.
Cole reached the middle of the four-lane road as another car passed, headed the opposite direction. “He’s looking at that car, not the squad car,” said the police official with knowledge of the investigation.
The left front of the squad car struck Cole, sending him flying into the driver’s side door.
The force knocked the spotlight off the car. Cole landed 50 or 60 feet away on the shoulder.
Cpl. Vaughn knew he had hit something but did not realize immediately that he had hit a person, police said.
Video from the second car reportedly shows Cpl. Vaughn stopped his vehicle, made a U-turn and then came back. The two officers tried to revive Cole, but he died several hours later at a local hospital.
Police officials say two street lights near the point of impact were not working at the time of the accident.
Oncor officials confirmed Monday that they received a report Sunday about the street light outages along Belt Line Road, near where the accident occurred.
They found nine outages on the 1.5-mile stretch of Belt Line Road between Highway 175 and Foothill Road. The bulbs were replaced Monday.