No charges against driver who fatally struck police officer, prosecutor says

Posted at 10:50 PM, Feb 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-15 18:17:22-05

CINCINNATI — The driver who fatally struck Colerain Police Officer Dale Woods will face no criminal charges, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said Friday.

Deters said he didn't believe his office could successfully prosecute the driver because there was no evidence of impairment or excessive speed. The driver's blood was never tested because the officers at the scene were confident that he was not impaired, he said.

"It was a very difficult decision," Deters said. "When you have a dead police officer, especially someone as respected as Dale was, you want to make sure you do everything you can to get to the truth, and the truth of it is this: We don't have enough evidence that we believe we would win at trial. That's the truth."

Watch 9 On Your Side anchor Tanya O'Rourke's full interview with Deters below:

Woods was hit by the driver's pickup truck last month while working at the scene where a car had crashed into a utility pole. He died at the hospital days later.

Authorities recreated the scene and drove a truck similar to the one that hit Woods, even using a fire engine to simulate the misty rain of that night. Deters said Cincinnati police were incredibly thorough with their investigation and spent a lot of time on the case.

However, there was no evidence that the driver was negligent, according to Deters. He hypothesized that the driver may have been distracted by the crash scene. Woods was wearing a reflective vest and picking up traffic cones at the time, but Deters said "it's possible that Dale stepped back and got hit."

"Sometimes accidents just happen," Deters said.

The ambiguity of the case even split Deters' assistant prosecutors.

"At best it's 50-50," he said. "That's not a probability" of success.

Woods, 46, was a 15-year veteran of the Colerain Police Department. He had also served with the Colerain Township Fire Department, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and other local police and fire departments during his career working for the public.

Just an hour before Woods was hit by the truck, he had received thanks from the father of a baby he'd saved, according to Colerain Police Chief Mark Denney. And Woods had made headlines a few months earlier when he ran into a burning apartment to save a blind woman inside.

Woods left behind a family and was the father of three children. Now they have to deal with the loss of their dad.

Denney said members of the department have been spending a lot of time with Woods' family.

"We intend to be a very strong support system for them," he said.

Deters said cases like this can some of be the hardest, because someone is dead, but there wasn't an intention to kill. Many families want the person responsible to face punishment in these cases.

"I think ultimately, they understood why they couldn't proceed," Deters said.

Through an attorney, the driver released a statement Friday offering condolences to Woods' family, his coworkers in the police department and Colerain residents.

"I do not have the words to express how sorry and sad I am that this tragic accident cost the life of Officer Dale Woods," he said. "I hope that God will help and bless his family to heal. I cannot imagine the pain they are going through during this grieving process."

Denney thanked investigators for all their work and said the department is working to ensure a similar event never happens. He has appointed officers to a committee to look into possible changes in equipment or best practices.

"We're going to take a hard look at this and come up with some answers," he said.

If anything changes, or new information comes to light, authorities do have a one-year statute of limitations to file charges.

"If there was evidence of impairment, if there was evidence of negligence, he would be prosecuted," Deters said.