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Suspect charged with murder of CHP officer

June 14, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A murder charge has been filed in the death of a California Highway Patrol officer who was killed during a high-speed pursuit Friday. The defendant appeared in court Monday San Bernardino.Jamie Coleman stood up during the entire five-minute arraignment of Richard Perez Monday. Coleman is the widow of CHP Officer Tom Coleman, who was killed Friday in a high-speed chase. Perez is the alleged driver of the car that was fleeing from police. He was charged with second-degree murder Monday.

Richard Perez, 20, of Redlands was allegedly at the wheel of a car that Officer Tom Coleman tried to pull over for a vehicle-code violation for seatbelts. Instead of stopping, Perez sped away and three minutes later, Coleman was killed when, in pursuit, his motorcycle struck a big-rig semi truck.

"He died doing what he was absolutely passionate about," said Jamie Coleman.

Jamie Coleman, mother of two small children, talked about her husband who was only 33 when he died.

"Tom was an amazing man, incredible husband, outstanding father, but one hell of an officer," said Coleman.

Less than two hours after Jamie Colman spoke to reporters, she was in the courtroom along with two dozen CHP officers when Richard Perez was arraigned on one count of 2nd-degree murder. The charge carries an enhancement that the victim was a police officer, which means Perez faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

"There was a conscious disregard for human life. What does that mean? It means his conduct was reckless," said San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos.

During the proceeding, Perez pleaded not guilty. Afterward, his attorney said his client feels shame for what happened.

"He's very emotional," said defense attorney David Menezes. "You may have noticed 'SW' on his jail uniform. That stands for 'suicide watch.' My understanding is that it has been in the news that he has written an apology letter the widow of the CHP Officer."

"I would question whether or not he is feeling the contrition and the remorse for himself, as opposed to Officer Coleman," said deputy district attorney Beth Houser.

The California Highway Patrol says officers are still investigating the chase and crash and are looking for the public's help.

"If there are any witnesses out there who saw this pursuit at any stage to please contact the California Highway Patrol," said CHP Inland Division Chief Jeff Talbott.

There were three other young men in that car during the chase. All were picked up, but so far none have been arrested or charged with anything.

The District Attorney Ramos would not confirm a report that the car they were in had been stolen, which if true might explain why they didn't stop and chose to flee instead.


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