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Pedestrian was negligent by not using crosswalk in fatal crash, airman's defense attorney says

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 | Published: January 28, 2021

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Tribune News Service) — A prosecutor with the U.S. Air Force says Airman Calvin Cooper was negligent when he struck and killed pedestrian Angelica Baca in March 2019.

But Cooper's defense attorney says Baca was the one acting negligently by not using a crosswalk the night she was killed.

Cooper's trial by court martial began with opening arguments at Kirtland Air Force Base on Wednesday. He is facing charges of reckless driving, involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide for hitting and killing 39-year-old Baca near Louisiana and Ross SE.

Prosecutor Capt. Andrew Trejo said Cooper and three other airmen left the base the night of March 23, 2019, in Cooper's 2002 Subaru Impreza WRX to go to a movie. He said Cooper began driving nearly 60 mph in a 35-mph zone on Louisiana.

Baca, meanwhile, crossed Louisiana and decided to use the double yellow lines in the median as a "safe haven" before reaching the other side of the street. The nearest crosswalk was hundreds of yards away, Trejo said. Witnesses will testify that this is a common way to cross the street in this area, he said.

"These are the last moments of Angelica Baca's life," Trejo said.

Cooper then struck Baca, instantly killing her, and crashed into the Rising Phoenix apartments.

Capt. Victoria Clark, one of Cooper's defense attorneys, said the crash was "due to the negligence" of Baca, who decided to cross five lanes of traffic.

"She has a choice to cross at the crosswalk, but chooses not to," Clark said.

Anna Hall testified Wednesday that she and her boyfriend were going north on Louisiana when her boyfriend, who was driving, looked behind him and saw Baca get hit. Hall said she then called 911.

"His reaction made me not look back because I didn't want to add to the chaos," Hall said.

Cooper's fate is in the hands of an eight-member panel, which is similar to a jury but composed of active Air Force members. The prosecution will need to convince three-fourths of the panel that he is guilty to convict him.

If the panel finds Cooper guilty, it is then responsible for determining Cooper's sentence. The trial is expected to end next week.

Before opening arguments, Lt. Col. Rebecca Schmidt, the presiding judge, denied a defense motion to dismiss the case. Defense attorneys asked for a dismissal because Cooper's Impreza was not inspected during the investigation and was later destroyed.

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