Driver charged with manslaughter in 2019 death of Valley police officer

Dec 3, 2020, 12:32 PM | Updated: 12:35 pm
Jerry Sanstead  (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office via AP)...
Jerry Sanstead (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office via AP)
(Maricopa County Sheriff's Office via AP)

PHOENIX – The man behind of the wheel of the vehicle that struck and killed a Valley police officer in Scottsdale was charged with manslaughter last month, nearly two years after the incident.

On Nov. 17, a grand jury indicted Jerry Don Sanstead Jr. in the Jan. 8, 2019, death of Salt River Police Officer Clayton Townsend.

Sanstead, 42, was issued a summons, and his arraignment was set for Dec. 17, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said Thursday. The trial is scheduled to start in May, according to court records.

The indictment accuses Sanstead of recklessly causing Townsend’s death. The indictment also alleges that the manslaughter count is a dangerous felony because it “involved the discharge, use, or threatening exhibition of a vehicle, a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument” as defined under state statute.

In June 2019, the Arizona Department of Public Safety released a 254-page report on the incident, which occurred on the northbound Loop 101 near McDowell Road around 6 p.m.

Townsend was conducting a traffic stop and talking to the driver through driver’s window when he was hit.

According to the report, Sanstead drifted across three lanes of traffic and “failed to observe the police vehicle for approximately 17 to 28 seconds” before the collision.

Sanstead admitted to officers that he had been using his phone to send voice messages and read texts from his wife before the crash, police said.

According to the report, he also told officers that he did not see the police lights and was “in the process of a cleanse” at the time, which may have caused him to pass out.

Witnesses told police that they saw Sanstead in his car holding a phone and not paying attention to the road.

The report also stated that during the booking process, Sanstead suffered “an unknown medical condition and fell and struck his head.”

He was then transported to a medical center where a nurse said he had suffered an injury to the left side of his tongue from him biting it, an injury consistent with seizures, according to the report.

After the collision, Sanstead was booked into jail on charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and endangerment, but the indictment is just for manslaughter.

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.

Townsend worked for the Salt River Police Department for five years and left behind a wife and then-10-month-old child.

His death fueled efforts to pass a statewide ban on distracted driving, which was enacted in April 2019 and will take effect next month.

Lifetime Windows & Doors

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)...

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signs $18 billion budget for 2023 fiscal year

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday signed the $18 billion budget into law that makes hefty investments in education, border security and infrastructure.
15 hours ago
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)...
Danny Shapiro

Former GOP congressman Matt Salmon drops out of race for Arizona governor

With about a week until early voting for Arizona's primary election, Matt Salmon pulled out of Republican race for governor on Tuesday.
15 hours ago
(Airbnb Photo)...
Kevin Stone

Airbnb makes party ban policy permanent, says it had big impact in Arizona

Airbnb said Tuesday its party ban has been so effective, especially in Arizona, that the vacation rental platform is making the policy permanent.
15 hours ago
(Facebook Photo/Phoenix Police Department)...

Phoenix police shoot armed suspect near 52nd Street and Thomas Road

Phoenix police shot and critically wounded a man they said pointed a gun at them during a confrontation Monday evening.
15 hours ago
(Facebook Photo/Goodyear Police Department)...

1 killed at Goodyear home; police search for suspect

Police are searching for a suspect who fled the scene of a homicide at a Goodyear home early Tuesday.
15 hours ago
(Pexels Photo)...

Here’s a map of Fourth of July events taking place across metro Phoenix

Fourth of July is one of the staples of summer and there are plenty of events occurring around the metro Phoenix area where you can celebrate America's birthday.
15 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
Day & Night Air

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
Canvas Annuity

The secret to guaranteed retirement income

Annuities aren’t really a secret, but they are so misunderstood that they might as well be. Once you understand what an annuity is and how it can benefit you, you could decide this “secret” is the perfect supplement to your retirement plan.
Driver charged with manslaughter in 2019 death of Valley police officer