Scottsdale, AZ – Salt River Police Department Officer Clayton Townsend was killed in the line of duty during a traffic stop on Tuesday, when he was struck by a driver who was distracted by a text message.
The fatal collision occurred just after 6 p.m., after Officer Townsend pulled over the driver of a white car for expired registration, Department of Public Safety (DPS) Captain Jesse Galvez said during a press conference on Tuesday night.
As he was approaching the vehicle on the side of the freeway, a black car drifted across two traffic lanes, and slammed into him, KTVK reported.
The black vehicle then crashed into the white car Officer Townsend had pulled over, Capt. Galvez explained.
Officer Townsend suffered severe head trauma in the collision, KTVK reported.
The driver of the black car, later identified as 40-year-old Jerry Sanstead, admitted that he was texting when he crashed into Officer Townsend, according to the DPS.
Officer Townsend was rushed to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 6:35 p.m., Capt. Galvez said.
The driver of the white car was hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries.
Sanstead, who was uninjured in the crash, was arrested on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, endangerment, and manslaughter, KTVK reported.
The DPS investigation into the incident is ongoing.
Officer Townsend, a five-year veteran of the department, leaves behind his wife and their 10-month-old child.
"Officer Clayton was one of my most dedicated, loyal, and committed officers on my department," Salt River Police Chief Karl Auerbach told reporters on Tuesday night. "He was truly a guardian of the people."
Chief Auerbach described him as “caring and compassionate,” and praised his dedication to the job.
“Officer Townsend was doing what he decided to do, to be a servant of the people, to be a guardian of the people, to serve and to protect, [and] tragically this evening, he lost his life doing his job," the chief said.
He praised the “brave men and women” of his department for the work they do every day, and asked for citizens to keep the agency and Officer Townsend’s family in their thoughts and prayers.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of Officer Townsend’s sacrifice, according to an Arizona Department of Administration media release.
“Our prayers and deepest sympathies go out to the family and friends of Officer Clayton Townsend as well as to the men and women of the Salt River Police Department,” Ducey said. “Arizona is grateful for his service and willingness to put himself in harm's way to keep others safe.”
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Salt River Police Department Officer Clayton Townsend, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Rest easy, hero. We’ll hold the line from here.