Kyle Barker stepped into the street to cross midblock in the early morning of Nov. 26. About the same time, a Chevrolet Impala barrelling down Baseline Road was headed toward him. The car swerved a little, but it was too late.
The driver, officer William Cullins, was in a Tempe police car.
His lights weren’t flashing and his sirens weren’t blaring — but he was driving about double the speed limit to the scene of a stolen car incident, a police report said. Cullins told investigators he saw the pedestrian but couldn’t avoid him.
Barker was hit so hard his body landed 166 feet from the crash site, according to the police report. He was killed instantly.
Now the Scottsdale family of the 24-year-old Mesa Community College student is suing the officer, Police Chief Ralph Tranter and Tempe.
Although the family knows nothing can bring Barker back, they said they worry about the issue of police officers and high speeds.
“If we don’t set a precedent here, we could see this happen to another person,” said Kelly Wilcott, Barker’s mother. “We don’t want to see that.”
Cullins was charged with criminal speeding and issued a civil traffic citation. His case was forwarded to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which determined the officer’s actions did not constitute “gross negligence or recklessness.” So no felony charges were filed, according to the police report.
The Chandler City Prosecutor’s Office is now handling the case, but Cullins is being tried in Tempe Municipal Court. His pretrial conference is scheduled for Sept. 12.
Both Cullins and his attorney Stanley Slonaker declined to comment.
Tempe Police Department officials also would not comment on the case. Tranter said he would not comment on pending litigation.
The Tribune requested Cullins’ hiring date and his history of behavior at the department, but Tempe police did not provide the information.
Cullins is working as a patrol officer but must ride in the passenger seat of a police car with another officer and is not permitted to drive a police vehicle, Tempe police spokesman Sgt. Dan Masters said. Cullins has not faced any discipline, and an internal affairs investigation has not been started pending the completion of the criminal case.
Bob Forry, compliance manager at the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board, the panel that certifies police officers to work in the state, said Cullins would have been automatically decertified if charged with a felony. But unless he is terminated, he will not go before the board.
Tempe police policy states that the need for public safety outweighs the need to disregard traffic laws. In emergency situations, officers may respond with lights and sirens, but “will not exceed a speed that would result in an unreasonable risk to public safety or loss of vehicle control.”
The posted speed limit in the area of the crash was 45 mph. At the time of impact, it was estimated the officer was traveling a minimum of 76 mph. Seconds prior he had reached speeds of 95 mph, according to the report.
“You have to question if this officer would take these liberties with a vehicle, what might he do with a gun,” said John Wilborn, the attorney for Barker’s family.
An autopsy report from the Maricopa County Forensic Science Center shows Barker had a blood alcohol content of 0.18 at the time of his death. He had been out celebrating his cousin’s engagement. It remains unclear why Barker attempted to cross the street midblock.
“He was working out and in shape to be a fireman,” said Kyle’s father, Jim Barker. “He was seconds from home when he was hit.”
Kyle Barker’s family described him as “very polite” and a “good golfer” who was active in raising money for multiple sclerosis, a disease that his stepmother has battled. He loved to dance and was studying to become a firefighter. He also loved music and doing impersonations of characters such as Dr. Evil or Napoleon Dynamite.
“His family and friends were the most important people in his life,” Wilcott said, while holding back tears.
Wilcott and others recently held a golfing event in Barker’s name, which raised $5,000 for multiple sclerosis. They said they worry that their son, and the
way he lost his life, will be forgotten.
“We just don’t want this swept under the rug,” Wilcott said. “We can’t let it happen.”