CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina police officer is charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle after he struck and killed a pedestrian while responding to a call at speeds that reached around 100 mph (161 kph), the department's chief said Wednesday.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney told reporters that 24-year-old Officer Phillip Barker was placed on administrative leave without pay in light of the charge.
Barker has worked for the police department since January 2016. He was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment of minor injuries.
Putney characterized the incident as "a mistake of the head, not of the heart. The officer had the right intentions, but sometimes, with youth, you don't have the experience, you don't have the knowledge, you don't have the time."
Police spokesman Andrew Harris said last weekend that 28-year-old James Michael Short was hit as he tried to cross a street near uptown Charlotte around 3:20 a.m. Saturday. Short had celebrated his birthday eight days prior to the accident.
Short, whose hometown wasn't available, was enrolled at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte for the summer and already registered for fall classes, said Jeff Lowrance, a school spokesman. He was a computer integration technology major, Lowrance said.
Harris said Barker's cruiser was one of three patrol cars responding to a car that crashed into a building.
Putney said Barker's car reached speeds of around 100 mph in a 35-mph (56-kph) zone. He said speed was the compelling factor in the difficult decision to charge Barker.
"You can exceed the speed limit, but you always have to do so with regard to others," Putney said. "This is a pretty stiff penalty to pay for such a mistake, but it's the right thing to do."
The Charlotte Observer reports that the last time a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer was involved in a fatal accident was in March 2009, when Officer Martray Proctor hit a car driven by a 20-year-old retirement home worker. Shatona Robinson died at the scene, and Proctor pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to three years' probation.
According to investigators, Proctor was driving his cruiser at speeds up to 111 mph (179 kph) in a 45-mph (72 kph) zone and didn't activate his siren.