A Tonganoxie man is accused of an accident that killed a Kansas City patrol officer, a pedestrian and the officer’s K-9 police dog Wednesday night.
Prosecutors filed two manslaughter charges against Jerron Lightfoot, 18, for driving a vehicle at excessive speed and running a red light, causing the crash that claimed the lives of officer James Muhlbauer and his Police K-9 Champ, along with a pedestrian, Jackson County Attorney Jean Peters Baker said in a statement Friday.
The incident occurred at approximately 10:15 pm Wednesday when the officer’s patrol car was hit by another vehicle near Truman Road and Benton Boulevard. The impact caused a secondary collision with a pedestrian, Sgt. Jake Becchina, a spokesman for the Kansas City Police Department.
Kansas City Police were investigating an accident involving a police vehicle and another vehicle that occurred Wednesday night near the intersection of Truman Road and Benton Boulevard. A pedestrian died at the scene, a police officer was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries and the other driver was arrested as part of the police investigation.
According to court documents filed Thursday, officers responding to the crash saw a man standing next to a white Ford Fusion, one of the crashed vehicles. The man was identified as Lightfoot, the driver and sole occupant of the Ford.
The other vehicle in the crash was Muhlbauer’s marked police car, where the police officer was found in the driver’s seat, unconscious. Authorities say he was wearing a seat belt. His police K-9 Champ was found dead in the second row. The officer was transported to an area hospital and later pronounced deceased. Police found a second deceased male, a man in his 50s who has not been publicly identified, under the police vehicle.
Court records say video of the incident showed the police officer traveling east on Truman Road at a green light at the Benton intersection. The white Ford was shown traveling south on Benton Boulevard at high speed and authorities say it failed to stop for a red light shortly before hitting the police vehicle. Prosecutors say the officer’s dash cam also showed she had a green light as she crossed the intersection.
Authorities said tests of Ford’s electronic ACM system showed the vehicle’s brakes were working before the crash and that the vehicle was traveling 85 miles per hour or more just prior to impact.
Jackson County Attorney Jean Peters Baker said their office spoke with the officer’s family and will meet with the pedestrian victim’s family soon, adding, “We extend our condolences to both the bereaved families and the police department. We are grateful for the pace of the police department’s investigative work that has allowed us to bring these allegations so quickly.”
In a press conference Thursday, city officials expressed their grief over the tragedy, noting that both Muhlbauer and his K-9 Champ were serving the city when they died.
“The officers were serving and protecting this city,” said Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves. “They were putting themselves in danger. They were civil servants that the city needs. And the moment we lost them. Our department is suffering. We are sad and we are shaken”.
Muhlbauer had spent his career in the patrol division, including the last three years with the K-9 unit. He was married and a father.
“Please keep them in your prayers,” Graves said, noting that one child had lost his “best friend.”
They said North Kansas City Police officers had transported Champ to the hospital to be reunited with Muhlbauer.
“Together, both Officer Muhlbauer and Canine Champ have been given a hero supply,” Graves said.
Peters Baker said his office worked closely with Muhlbauer on a quintuple homicide. In 2014, she arrested Brandon Howell, who was later convicted of five counts of first-degree murder.
In a message posted to Twitter, Mayor Quinton Lucas said the city is in mourning for the officer, the pedestrian and the police dog.
“This morning, our city mourns the death of a 20-year veteran of the Kansas City Police Department, along with an innocent civilian and a canine officer,” Lucas wrote. “My prayers are with the families and friends of those we have lost and with all the women and men in law enforcement.”
Outside the KCPD headquarters, a patrol car is parked, with flowers adorning the windshield in honor of the officers.
There, KCPD invites citizens to pay their respects to Champ and Muhlbauer.