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Suspect arrested in connection to crash that killed Salt River officer

In this undated photo released by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office shows Jerry Sanstead. Sanstead, the driver of a vehicle that struck and killed a police officer on a Phoenix-area freeway was texting before the wreck and has been arrested and accused of manslaughter and other crimes, authorities said Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office via AP)

PHOENIX — A suspect was arrested in connection to a crash on a Phoenix-area highway that killed a Salt River police officer late Tuesday night.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety said 40-year-old Jerry Sanstead allegedly struck Officer Clayton Townsend on Loop 101 near McDowell Road.

Sanstead told officers that he was texting and driving when the crash occurred. A witness told police they saw Sanstead cross over two lanes before striking Townsend.

Townsend was conducting a traffic stop on a different vehicle at the time of the crash.

Townsend sustained head trauma during the impact and later died at a hospital. The driver of the vehicle that he had pulled over suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Sanstead was booked into the Fourth Avenue Jail on charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and endangerment. His bond was set at $100,000.

Townsend worked with the department for five years and left behind a wife and 10-month-old child, according to ABC15 Arizona.

Gov. Doug Ducey said in a tweet that state flags would be lowered to half-staff from sunrise to sunset Wednesday to honor the officer.

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone told KTAR News 92.3 FM Arizona’s Morning News that his thoughts were with the Salt River Police Department and Townsend’s family.

“It doesn’t matter what uniform these individuals are wearing, the entire law enforcement community feels the impact,” he said.

Penzone said Townsend’s death was also a “considerable setback” to the Salt River department, which lost another officer in the line of duty from a 2014 shooting.

The crash sparked a renewed debate over whether a statewide distracted driving law needed to be passed. Fountain Hills, Phoenix, Tempe, Surprise and El Mirage have some form of law against drivers using cellphones or other handheld devices.

Arizona Department of Public Safety head Col. Frank Milstead told Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes on Wednesday that a ban against texting while driving is difficult to enforce because of the ways a phone can be manipulated, but he is sure it will come up in the state Legislature again.

“Distracted driving is a huge problem on highways,” Milstead said.

Sanstead will appear in court next on Jan. 15.

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