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Evidence conflicts in officer’s death

Did driver’s tire blow out before or after he lost control?

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While the driver who police say hit and killed a Salt Lake bicycle patrol officer remained in jail Wednesday morning, Utah Highway Patrol investigators were trying to piece together conflicting evidence from Monday's fatal accident.

UHP Sgt. Doug McCleve, who is heading the accident investigation, said he believes investigators have gathered enough evidence to file negligent homicide charges against 25-year-old Yocundo Cruz-Silva. Investigators were expected to present their case to the District Attorney's Office Wednesday morning, McCleve said. Prosecutors will then decide if there is sufficient evidence to charge Cruz-Silva.

"We feel there was some negligence," McCleve said after UHP's preliminary investigation.

McCleve said the evidence investigators had gathered from the scene contradicted the driver's story and other eyewitness accounts that reported at least one of the vehicle's tires blew out before the car jumped the curb and struck the bicycle patrol officer riding on the sidewalk.

Officer Michael J. Dunman, 30, was hit about 4 p.m. near 1450 S. State and was declared dead 30 minutes later at LDS Hospital.

"There is no evidence the tires on the vehicle were flat before he left the roadway," McCleve said. "Preliminary evidence shows that when the tires hit the curbing they went flat, not prior to."

At least one eyewitness told the Deseret News it appeared the car blew a tire and then lost control.

Cruz-Silva maintains the same story.

"After my tire went out, I felt the steering wheel pull hard. I lost control and hit the (light) post and my windshield exploded," he told the Salt Lake Tribune, which quoted him in a copyrighted story.

"I must have dragged the post along with me. It was across the top of the car when I ran into (Dunman). I never saw the officer. I was looking at the post, and I could not see out of my windshield because it was shattered."

Cruz-Silva admitted the tires on his car were well-worn and said he planned to buy new tires as soon as he could afford them.

"I am very sorry," Cruz-Silva said. "I want to apologize to the officer's wife. I want to tell her I am very sorry and tell his children, too. I am sorry because I have a family, too."

Dunman's wife, Sandi Dunman, said she's having a hard time accepting Cruz-Silva's apology after hearing TV news reports.

"When I thought it was an accident, yes, I would have accepted it," Sandi Dunman said Wednesday morning, "but when I saw the news last night and it didn't seem like an accident, I had a harder time with it."

Cruz-Silva remained in the Salt County Jail Wednesday morning.

McCleve said the driver was traveling faster than the posted 35 mph speed limit but did not appear to be under the influence of any drugs or alcohol. Authorities say the final results of blood samples taken from the driver are still at least a few days away.

"We have no indication whatsoever of any kind of impairment or intoxication," McCleve said.

Meanwhile, those close to Dunman did their best to cope with his tragic death. Dunman's fellow bike patrol officers were still too distraught to speak publicly, said Salt Lake Police Capt. Scott Atkinson. Police are wearing black bands across their badges in memory of Dunman.

"We'd like to thank the public for the outpouring of the community toward this officer and his family," Atkinson said Tuesday.

"This is a very tragic situation for everyone involved," UHP spokesman Chris Kramer said. "It takes time to do this type of investigation."

Funeral services for Dunman are planned for Friday in Tooele. A viewing will be held Thursday in Bountiful.

There is an immigration detainer on Cruz-Silva at the jail, meaning he will be released to Immigration and Naturalization Services authorities after he's released, even if no charges are filed against him. Cruz-Silva is a Mexican national.

"If there's a detainer, that means we've made the determination that he's to be held with the INS," said acting INS supervisory special agent Sidney Cluff.

INS officials can then decide whether or not to go ahead with removal proceedings against Cruz-Silva, Cluff said.

Cruz-Silva was cited during a July 1998 traffic stop for three misdemeanor traffic offenses, including not having a valid driver's license. The citations were all cleared in 3rd District Court last June after copies of the original citations couldn't be located, court records indicate. Utah Highway Patrol spokesman Chris Kramer said Cruz-Silva was issued a driver's license in August 1999 and had maintained a clean driving record since.

Under a law passed during the 1999 general legislative session, a non-citizen can obtain a Utah driver's license using an Individual Temporary Identification Number (ITIN), which can be obtained through the IRS, Kramer said.


Contributing: The Associated Press.

E-MAIL: djensen@desnews.com