An on-duty San Diego County sheriff's deputy has died after chasing a wrong-way driver on state Route 52, hitting a bridge abutment and rolling hundreds of feet down a freeway embankment, officials said.
Collier was heading west on state Route 52 from Santee when he spotted a wrong-way driver coming at him. The deputy turned around.
“Likely due to his concern for safety and welfare of the driving public, the deputy advised dispatch and tried to overtake the wrong way driver,” Sheriff Bill Gore said.
He was trying to overtake the driver when the deputy’s Ford Expedition struck a center median bridge abutment, rolled several hundred feet and came to a rest in a deep ravine.
“Deputy Collier radioed dispatch using his handheld radio while dispatcher Ryan Debillis used his cell phone to notifying the Communications Center they had crashed in a ravine and needed help,” Lt. Turner said.
When deputies arrived, the patrol car was on fire up a steep embankment between Mast Blvd. and Santo Rd.
After an extremely difficult rescue effort, Deputy Collier and Debillis were both responsive but seriously injured. Collier was taken to Sharp Memorial Hospital. He died at 5:30 a.m.
Debellis, who was with Deputy Collier, is expected to make a full recovery.
“It appears that Deputy Collier came out of the vehicle and that’s probably why he obtained more serious injuries,” Gore said.
Gore could not say whether Deputy Collier or Debellis were wearing a seatbelt.
The alleged drunk driver, who was the subject of the chase, was caught nearby. Jose Jasso Lopez, 22, will be charged with vehicular manslaughter and drunken driving, Gore said.
Collier lived in Santee.
“I was with his brother and sister this morning, obviously the whole family, as is the entire Sheriff’s Dept. and law enforcement family, very saddened by this tragic loss,” Gore said.
Collier became a sheriff’s deputy when the Marshal’s office and the Sheriff’s Dept. merged in 2000. His last assignment was with the Santee sheriff’s station.
“Everybody obviously is very shaken by this. Our last on-duty death was deputy sheriff Pat Coyle back in 1997,” Gore said. Coyle was looking for possible trespassers when his helicopter suddenly lost power and fell from the sky. He was 42 years old.
Westbound Route 52 was closed Sunday between Mast and Santos Road while officials investigated.
“There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle we don’t have yet,” CHP officer Brian Pennings said. Fog may have been a factor.
Sheriff's deputies who knew Collier are mourning his loss. They say he was a friendly man and well liked by so many.About three years ago, he transfered from working in the courts to going on patrol so he could help the general public. Colleagues say Collier drove an expedition because he was too tall and big for the regular patrol vehicles.
He was scheduled to be married in June.