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CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati police officer who struck a pedestrian Saturday night in Over-the-Rhine with his cruiser was driving 50 mph in 25 mph speed zone – an apparent violation of department guidelines that restrict officers to drive no more than 20 mph above the posted limit.
A preliminary police report determined District 4 Police Officer Orlando Smith was responding to a call to help a fellow officer when his cruiser slammed into Natalie Cole, 36, of Dayton, Ky.
Cole was crossing the 1800 block of Vine Street about 7:20 p.m. when she was hit. She was not in a crosswalk and officials said Smith did not see her. She remains in critical condition at University Hospital Medical Center.
"When you're driving to the scene to back an officer up like that, our officers aren't looking at the speedometer seeing if I'm going 50 (mph) or 51 (mph)," said Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell at Monday's press conference. "The standard for that type of driving behavior is: What's reasonable? Am I controlling this cruiser?"
But department policy states that when driving in emergency mode, an officer "will not exceed the posted speed limit by more than 20 mph," according to department policy. The posted speed limit on the stretch of Vine Street where Cole was struck is 25 mph.
Police department policy also mandates that an officer turns on the cruiser's lights and sirens when traveling to help another officer, which Smith did Saturday, said Executive Assistant Police Chief Paul Humphries.
Smith was on his way from the Kroger parking lot at 1 W. Corry St., in Corryville, to help another officer holding two suspects at gunpoint near the intersection of Linn and Liberty streets, according to police. Cruiser camera video shows Smith with his lights and sirens on as he left the grocery store parking lot, driving south on Vine Street.
But moments before hitting Cole, the camera malfunctions and stops recording.
Recording resumes three minutes later.
"It was on, but for some reason, it wasn't recording. But, then it started working again three minutes later as he (Smith) was explaining the sequences of events to a lieutenant," Cincinnati police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell told WCPO. "I'm convinced that everything was above board, because had it been shut off, then turned back on, it would have backed up and captured the accident anyway.
"We haven't touched that tape."
City cameras, which are set to automatically pan, did not capture the crash either, said Traffic Unit commander Lt. Bruce Hoffbauer. A conclusive police report, conducted by the traffic unit, is expected to be completed within the next two weeks. Officials said it will include exactly how fast Smith was driving.
Cole was struck by the front, driver's side of Smith's Crown Victoria. Smith then jerked the wheel, drove over a curb, hit a fire hydrant and a parking meter before coming to a stop, Humphries said.
Cole's mother, Brenda, told 9 On Your Side Tuesday the only thing her daughter can move are her hands and arms.
"No, I don't blame them. No, but I just want to know...I'd like to know what happened," Brenda Cole said. "She said that herself last night. I was talking to her and she said, 'Why would I go out in the middle of the street with sirens and lights coming at me. Why would I do that?' I said, 'I have no idea.'"
Witnesses at the scene said Smith was driving in excess of 60 mph with lights but no siren. They estimated the impact of the crash flung Natalie Cole 40 feet.
"I (saw) a police car coming down...Vine at 70 miles per hour and smack this lady so hard...it split her head open," said Rachel Crutchfield, who was one of several people who say they witnessed the accident.
Smith was placed on paid administrative leave as the department investigates, which is routine police procedure.
View an interactive map reconstructing the events of the incident below. Click the points on the map for a more detailed view.
Map by Libby Duebber, WCPO multimedia producer. Information from Cincinnati Police Department Traffic Unit
Who is Officer Orlando Smith?
Smith is a 19-year veteran of the police department, and was assigned to District 4 in January 1996, according to his personnel file.
Of the six previous crashes Smith has been involved in, he was found negligent in five, costing the city $17,831.70 in damages, according to his personnel file.
He was last involved in an accident 10 years ago, on New Year's Day 2003.
In his last yearly review, he exceeded standards in officer safety and patrol practices or self-initiated activity.
During his review, his commanding officer noted Smith "is a great beat cop and can be relied upon for anything that comes his way," and that he "is tactically sound, a pleasure to supervise and always has a smile on his face."
Executive command staff describe Smith as a proactive officer, who has chosen to stay on the street working second shift.
"He could easily be working first or third shift, because he has the seniority," said Public Information Officer Sgt. Julian Johnson. "He chooses to stay with the younger officers."
In May, Smith earned the Cincinnati Police Medal of Valor for his actions in November 2012. Smith was the subject of a fatal officer-involved shooting, which claimed the life of 19-year-old Dontez O'Neal in November 2012. The shooting occurred after an undercover police officer said they bought heroin from a friend of O'Neal's.
Undercover officers followed a car containing O'Neal and two of his friends, and requested a uniformed police officer to initiate a traffic stop. Smith attempted to stop the vehicle on Burton Avenue in Avondale, but the suspects made a U-turn and tried to flee the scene, but Smith's cruiser blocked their way out.
At that point, O'Neal allegedly pointed a gun at Smith and fired but missed. Smith returned fire and hit O'Neal four times, included once in the head. He died as a result. O'Neal's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in response.
Smith wounded 19-year-old Devon Price in the shoulder after an altercation in 2005 at the now closed Club Ritz in Roselawn. In 2002, Smith was in pursuit of a vehicle in the West End, failed to stop at a red light and hit another car. He was disciplined for his actions.
9 On Your Side's AJ Walker and Amy Wadas reported from the scene of the crash.
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