Fullerton officer injured in crash was looking for missing girl
Woman killed in crash, who authorities believe ran red light in SUV and struck officer’s car, remembered with roses near crash site.
By KIMBERLY EDDS and DENISSE SALAZAR
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
FULLERTON – Officer Joshua Earnest spent Wednesday night in a Fullerton living room comforting the father of a missing 13-year-old girl. Hours later, 23-year-old Earnest was in critical condition, thrown from his squad car after being broadsided by an SUV, authorities said.
The 26-year-old driver whose car collided with Earnest’s and who died in the crash had just waved goodbye to a friend a block away. She had run a red light, authorities and witnesses said.
Rebecca Cooper’s red 2003 Chevy Trailblazer slammed into Earnest’s patrol car at Commonwealth Avenue and Euclid Street about 2:45 a.m. Thursday, sending bumpers, glass and traffic light parts flying across the intersection.
The walk signal landed in the waiting area of a corner carwash. The police siren was ripped from the squad car. Earnest and Cooper, who were not wearing seat belts, were ejected, authorities said.
Commonwealth and Euclid were shut down for more than 15 hours Thursday while investigators from the California Highway Patrol tried to piece together what happened. CHP officers are used to investigate major crashes involving local police officers.
Korea Times deliveryman Young Pak said he was stopped at the red light at Commonwealth when he saw the Trailblazer speed past him, driving through the red light and slamming into the driver’s side of Earnest’s squad car as he drove west on Commonwealth.
Cooper’s Trailblazer careened off the police car and plowed through a light standard, ripping the pole out of the cement. Cooper was thrown from the SUV. The Trailblazer flipped over, coming to a rest in the parking lot of a carwash. Cooper died in the parking lot, authorities said.
Pak waited for the light to change and rushed to help. A tow truck driver used the police radio to call in the crash. Earnest spent several hours in surgery at UCI Medical Center in Orange to repair a broken jaw, pelvis and several fractures, said Fullerton police Sgt. Linda King.
"Now you start thinking," Pak said. "That could have been me. That could have been anyone."
Fullerton Police Department does not require its officers to wear a seat belt. The exemption is also granted to firefighters, paramedics and other first responders. The issue has long been debated, with many officers arguing it could be a danger if they are not able to jump out of a car quickly to respond or if they simply forget to take it off while responding to an emergency.
Brian Ramirez, 25, who grew up with Cooper, a waitress at Anaheim’s Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., said they had been drinking at a family dinner party in Glendale. They visited a friend at the Bubba Gump in Long Beach. About 2 a.m. they came back to Fullerton to get Ramirez’s car. Cooper was headed south on Euclid, and Ramirez said he honked to say goodbye. Cooper then turned and headed north on Euclid before the collision.
It is unclear whether alcohol was a factor in the crash.
Thursday afternoon, Ramirez and a group of longtime friends laid red and white roses near the crash site. A handwritten sign read "We love you & you will be missed."
Cooper was the "text queen," Ramirez said. The girl who had about "1,000 names in her phone," and talked to as many people as she could.
"Everyone, just everyone loved her," Ramirez said. Her truck was red – her favorite color. She wore the number eight when she played roller hockey and she coached.
Cooper loved to drive and would change her mind – in a split second, Ramirez said. And she made an impression. The longtime waitress could hardly go anywhere in Orange County without someone asking her if she had served them at a restaurant somewhere, friend Amy Alcorn said.
It was Earnest who showed up with ideas and a shoulder to cry on when James Cabrera called Fullerton police Wednesday night. Cabrera’s daughter Danielle disappeared. Minutes before the crash, Earnest had called the panicked father to see if Danielle had turned up.
"I’m just heartbroken that this guy was out looking for my little girl and this happened," said Cabrera, 44. "He was just doing his job."
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A 26-year-old woman drove her sport utility vehicle through a red light, striking a police cruiser in Fullerton early Thursday, killing herself and critically injuring an officer, authorities said.
Rebecca Cooper was ejected from a red sport utility vehicle after the collision that was reported at 2:42 a.m. at Euclid Street and West Commonwealth Avenue, Fullerton police Sgt. Linda King said.
Officer Joshua Earnest, 23, was driving westbound on Commonwealth Avenue. His patrol car had just entered the intersection before it was struck, King said. The officer was responding to a call, but it was "nothing significant" and he was driving at a regular speed, which at the intersection is 40 mph, according to King.
Earnest was also ejected from his vehicle. He suffered a broken jaw and underwent surgery for repair of his pelvis, but did not suffer a broken femur as police indicated in earlier reports, King said.
Earnest was not wearing a seat belt. The Fullerton Police Department encourages its officers to wear seat belts, although it is not mandatory for emergency responders such as police officers and firefighters, Fullerton police Sgt. Dan Bohling said.
In some situations, police may need to get out of a vehicle quickly and "seat belts could be an issue," Bohling said.
Others exempted are children in school buses, garbage truck drivers and people delivering newspapers, Bohling said.
A witness told officers that Earnest was stopped at a red light in the center lane on northbound Euclid Street when a woman driving a red sport utility vehicle passed him on the right at high speed. She then ran the red light and slammed into the driver’s side of the police cruiser, King said.
The impact spun both vehicles out of control, she said.
Cooper’s body landed about 10 feet in front of her vehicle, which had come to rest in the parking lot of a car wash on the northwest corner of the intersection, King added. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Earnest was taken to UCI Medical Center in Orange and is listed in critical condition, King said.
Toxicological tests will be performed to determine whether Cooper was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The investigation is being conducted by the California Highway Patrol, to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, King said.
Anyone who witnessed the collision was asked to call authorities at (714) 738-6714.
Posted by mquest foto on 2007-12-29 23:11:40
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