A U.S. Border Patrol agent who ran over and killed a teenager on the Tohono O'Odham Reservation four years ago was cleared of wrongdoing Friday by a federal judge.
Bennett Patricio Jr.'s death was an unavoidable accident, and Agent Cody Rouse did nothing to breach his duty to act as a "reasonable, prudent person" the morning of the incident, U.S. District Judge Cindy K. Jorgenson ruled in a lawsuit filed by Patricio's mother, Angelita Ramon.
The decision came as a shock to Ramon, who heard the news from a reporter.
"That really hurts," Ramon said, breaking into sobs. "That's really painful. I can't believe that's what she decided."
According to court documents, Rouse was driving on Federal Route 20 near Sells when he ran over Patricio around 4 a.m. April 9, 2002.
For some unknown reason, Patricio, 19, was lying in the middle of the road dressed entirely in dark clothing. The teenager, who had alcohol and marijuana in his system, was dragged 50 to 100 feet. All of his ribs were broken and his skull was crushed.
Attorney Elliot Glicksman, representing Ramon, contended Rouse wasn't driving with his high beams on, simply assumed the object lying in the road was garbage and chose to straddle the object.
In her 18-page ruling, Jorgenson found that Rouse was driving 10 miles under the speed limit and there was no reason to disbelieve the agent's contention that he was driving with his brights on.
"There was no credible evidence" Rouse had enough time to avoid Patricio, Jorgenson said, despite contrary testimony from the plaintiff's experts.
Rouse only had two seconds to make a decision once he realized the object in the road was a person, the judge said. Had he swerved one way, he would have rolled his vehicle and if he'd swerved the other way, he would have gone into the oncoming lane of traffic. She also discounted Glicksman's contention Rouse lied about the circumstances of the crash afterward.
"While Rouse made a few inconsistent statements, it was clear that they were innocent mistakes which were not intended to deceive anyone," Jorgenson wrote.
"I'm disappointed with the result because in my heart I truly believe Agent Rouse could've stopped his vehicle before he ran over Bennett Patricio," Glicksman said.