Salt River police officer killed in Scottsdale collision involving texting driver

Clayton Townsend (Salt River Police Department)

A Salt River police officer was struck and killed by a vehicle whose driver was texting, according to authorities.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety reports Clayton Townsend, 26, an officer with the Salt River Police Department, was pronounced dead at the hospital Tuesday evening.

DPS said Mr. Townsend had pulled over a vehicle for an expired registration around 6 p.m. along Loop 101 south of McDowell Road.

Not even two minutes later, another vehicle was seen traveling across two lanes, including the right-side emergency lane. That vehicle collided with the stopped vehicle and then struck Mr. Townsend.

The officer sustained head trauma during the impact. The driver of the stopped vehicle sustained non-life threatening injuries.

Another Salt River officer arrived and began rendering aid to Mr. Townsend. However, Mr. Townsend was transported to HonorHealth Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center and was pronounced dead at 6:35 p.m.

The driver of the vehicle that struck Mr. Townsend told DPS he had been texting during the time his vehicle entered the emergency lane and struck the officer. A witness also told DPS a similar story.

Distracted driver facing charges

Jerry Sanstead, 40, of Scottsdale, was arrested and booked into the Maricopa County Fourth Avenue Jail on charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and endangerment.

He appeared in court Wednesday evening and was later jailed in lieu of a $100,000 bond.

Court records released to the media indicate Mr. Townsend told authorities he was texting his wife while on his way home from work. He was reportedly using his phone’s voice-to-text features.

“Sanstead was asked if he should have been on his phone and driving at the same time,” records state. “He admitted that he knew he shouldn’t have been on his phone.”

Mr. Sanstead is due in court Jan. 15 and 17.

“You may not drive, for any reason,” his release orders state.

3 officers killed to-date in 2019

Eight days into 2019, the incident is the first law enforcement line-of-duty death in Arizona, third in the U.S., according to the Officer Down Memorial page.

Mr. Townsend was with the agency for five years. He is survived by his wife and 10-month-old child.

Salt River Police Chief Karl Auerbach called Mr. Townsend caring, compassionate and “truly a guardian of the people.”

Wednesday is National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey ordered all flags lowered to half staff in honor of Mr. Townsend.

The 100 Club of Arizona, which seeks to provide immediate help to the families of fallen or injured public safety officers and firefighters in Arizona, had raised its $10,000 goal on Facebook as of Wednesday afternoon.

People can continue to donate at

Valley city passes distracted-driving law

The same night of Mr. Townsend’s death, the city of Glendale passed an ordinance banning the use of mobile devices while driving.

The law, which goes into effect Feb. 7, bans the use of hand-held devices while operating a motor vehicle. Use of such devices in hands-free mode would be allowed.

Law enforcement and other agencies are permitted to use mobile devices in a work capacity.

A violation of the law may result in a fine of $250 for the first offense.

Glendale’s law follows that of the West Valley cities of Surprise and El Mirage. Peoria is also considering a law of its own.

Glendale Vice Mayor Joyce Clark hopes with so many Valley cities passing this kind of ordinance, the Arizona legislature will adopt the law statewide.

Some laws have been introduced at the state level, with Sen. Steve Farley (D-Tucson), among the biggest proponents of a statewide law. However, those laws have never passed.

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