By Joey Bunch
The Denver Post
POSTED: 12/22/2009 01:00:00 AM MST
UPDATED: 12/22/2009 09:51:40 AM MST
The Colorado State Patrol suspended three staff members as part of an internal investigation into the delayed dispatch of troopers to a report of a disabled car on Interstate 25 near Fountain, minutes before a fatal accident.
At least one dispatcher was distracted by "watching a Christmas movie," Col. James Wolfinbarger, chief of the Colorado State Patrol, told reporters at a news conference Monday, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.
The driver of a Mazda sedan called the State Patrol's Pueblo dispatch center about 1:30 a.m. Thursday to report hitting a deer. The accident left the car disabled in the roadway without flashers or lights.
The State Patrol said Monday that it was nine minutes before that message was passed to a trooper.
Thirteen minutes after the initial call, a Ford Explorer driven by Heather Clinton, 20, of San Manuel, Ariz., swerved to miss the Mazda.
The sport utility vehicle rolled into the median, ejecting Clinton and her brother, 22-year-old Earl "E.J." Clinton.
Heather Clinton was killed, and her brother was seriously injured.
Wolfinbarger met with their parents Monday before announcing the internal investigation. He said it was too soon to say whether the delay contributed to the fatal accident.
"We are deeply saddened by this tragic event and are committed to a thorough and comprehensive internal investigation," Wolfinbarger said.
"The thoughts and prayers of the Colorado State Patrol are with the Clinton family."
The agency disclosed the initial finding about the delayed response because "we are holders of the public trust," Wolfinbarger said.
"It's important that we step forward even when the news isn't good," he said.
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