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Records show Valley man accused of killing officer in distracted driving case wasn't using phone before crash

Jerry Sanstead's attorney says cell phone records show Sanstead wasn't using his cell phone for nearly two minutes before the crash.

PHOENIX — The car crash that killed Officer Clayton Townsend in 2019 and spurred Arizona’s distracted driving law may not have been the result of a driver texting behind the wheel.

An attorney for Jerry Sanstead, the man who’s facing a manslaughter charge for Townsend’s death, said in court that Sanstead’s cell phone records show he wasn’t using his phone for nearly two minutes before the crash.

Lawrence Kazan, Sanstead’s attorney, argued in court prosecutors misrepresented the case to the grand jury that indicted Sanstead last year.

RELATED: New Arizona distracted driving law nets thousands of citations

“In their zealous attempt to get an indictment in this case, it was pretty obvious. They played pretty fast and loose with the truth and what they were presenting to the grand jury,” Kazan said.

Townsend, a Salt River Police officer, had pulled over another car back in January of 2019. Investigators said Sanstead crashed into Townsend and the car he pulled over on the 101 in Scottsdale.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety said at the time Sanstead had been looking down at his phone and texting before crossing over lanes on the 101 and crashing.

According to Kazan, phone records show Sanstead’s phone was not being used for 1 minute and 58 seconds before the crash in January of 2019.

Kazan pointed back to a DPS interview with Sanstead while he was in the hospital, where he said Sanstead was searching for a reason as to why the crash happened.

“I thought, I thought, maybe, maybe, I passed out or something. Like - I don't - because I'm doing this cleanse and you know, it has been it's a weird feeling,” Sanstead told the DPS interviewer.

RELATED: Mom of fallen Salt River police officer: ‘Just stop texting and driving’

During a hearing this week, prosecutors said they did not misrepresent the case to the grand jury.

“The state made it crystal clear in that presentation that the evidence does not show cell phone was being actually used at the exact moment of impact. That has never been the argument put forward by the state,” Edward Paine, a deputy attorney for Maricopa County said.

The judge has not made a ruling on the matter.

DPS and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office both declined to comment on this, citing the open case.

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