TUCSON (AP) — A federal judge has found that an accident in which a U.S. Border Patrol agent ran over a Tohono O'odham teenager on a highway was an unavoidable accident.
U.S. District Judge Cindy Jorgenson ruled in favor of agent Cody Rouse and the government after a five-day bench trial.
Rouse ran over and killed Bennett Patricio Jr. on April 9, 2002, while driving eastbound along U.S. Route 20 near Sells, the capital of the Tohono O'odham Nation.
Patricio's family sued, claiming that the agent was liable for negligence.
Patricio, 18, was lying in the middle of the road at about 4:15 a.m. Two other Border Patrol agents were following Rouse in separate vehicles.
Among other findings of fact, Jorgenson said:
* The speed limit was 55 mph but Rouse was traveling at approximately 45 mph;
* The two-lane, steeply sloped highway is "in the middle of a desolate stretch of desert and pedestrians occasionally walk along the roadway, and
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* It was pitch dark on Federal Route 20 during the early morning hours in question, with no ambient lighting and no moon.
In her ruling, the judge, who visited the accident scene, found that "this case involves a tragic accident and Patricio's family has suffered a great loss."
But she noted that Patricio was lying in a semi-fetal position, not moving, with his back facing oncoming eastbound traffic. He was clothed in black pants, a black cloth belt, a navy blue shirt and blue shoes.
Rouse said he believed he did not see anything in the road until within about 60 feet or two seconds from hitting the object, which he thought was inanimate and nonhuman.
Jorgenson said Rouse tried to miss the object by straddling it between his wheels and realized it was a human as the body passed under his vehicle. Patricio was killed instantly.
"As discussed in detail in the findings of fact, this was an unavoidable accident," the judge said. She ruled that the federal government is not liable for negligence.
Earlier, Jorgenson had ordered a trial, finding that the agent "was at least partially negligent in failing to avoid Patricio."
She had cited field tests presented by the family's lawyer showing that the agent had sufficient time to avoid running Patricio over.