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Kirtland AFB airman accused in fatal crash asks judge to toss case

Airman 1st Class Calvin Cooper, who was involved in a deadly car racing incident near Kirkland Air Force Base, is shown after a military court hearing on Nov. 21, 2019.

ADOLPHE PIERRE-LOUIS, THE ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL/TNS

By EDMUNDO CARRILLO | Albuquerque Journal, N.M. | Published: January 26, 2021

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Tribune News Service) — A defense attorney for the Kirtland Air Force Base airman accused of negligent homicide and other crimes in the death of a pedestrian in March 2019 has asked that his charges be dismissed because his car was not inspected during the investigation and was later destroyed.

The trial by court martial for Airman Calvin Cooper began at Kirtland Air Force Base on Monday on charges of reckless driving, involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide. Investigators say he was speeding in his Subaru Impreza when he used the median to pass another car at Louisiana and Ross SE. Angelica Baca, 39, was standing in the median and was killed instantly in the crash.

The proceedings Monday focused on preliminary matters. Opening arguments in the trial are expected to begin Tuesday or Wednesday. Cooper, who was 20 at the time of the crash, is expected to enter pleas to the charges on Tuesday morning.

Defense attorney Capt. Victoria Clark argued that the charges should be dismissed because the Impreza was not inspected before it was destroyed in July.

Joseph Earl Manning, a crash reconstruction expert who was hired to help in the investigation, testified Monday that he never inspected the car but instead used the Albuquerque Police Department crash report and other methods to determine that Cooper was going 58 mph when he struck Baca.

"The evidentiary value of a vehicle in a traffic accident cannot be understated," Clark said. "Photos do not replace analyzing a physical car. The government is relying on photographs to calculate speed."

Clark asked that the charges be dismissed, or that the judge not allow prosecutors to rely on the accident report to present evidence on how fast Cooper was going at the time of the crash.

Prosecutor Capt. Matthew Lupo said that the Albuquerque Police Department took possession of the car after the incident and that the defense had access to it up until July.

"The government did not destroy this car," Lupo said. "It was the accused who took the car prior to its disposal."

Lt. Col. Rebecca Schmidt, the presiding judge, did not issue an immediate ruling on the motion.

The trial is being held in a courtroom at Kirtland. Media and other members of the public were allowed to watch the proceedings via closed-circuit TV in a nearby auditorium due to COVID-19 restrictions. The trial is expected to last seven to 10 days, and Cooper will be sentenced immediately if he is found guilty.

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