A Stanislaus County Sheriff’s deputy has been fired from his position after being found primarily responsible for a fatal accident that occurred on January 9th, 2022. Eric Fulmer was driving code-3, with lights and sirens, in a department-issued Nissan Maxima to respond to help a Newman police officer who was fighting with a suspect.
On a foggy morning, Fulmer was traveling at 121 mph, seconds before reaching the intersection where 21-year-old Saul Betancourt was starting to make a left turn.
Although Fulmer braked, it was too late, and his vehicle collided with Betancourt’s at 90 mph. Betancourt died at the scene, and his girlfriend, who was in the passenger seat, suffered major injuries. Fulmer also suffered severe injuries.
An internal affairs investigation was launched following the completion of a nearly year-long investigation by the California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team.
As a result of the investigation, Fulmer, a 10-year employee, was put on paid administrative leave in February or March after a disciplinary review board recommended termination, based on the finding of the IA investigation. Fulmer was eventually terminated on Wednesday, March 29th, for violating department policy related to the crash at River Road and Villa Manucha Road, west of Turlock.
The CHP’s 158-page report put Fulmer primarily at fault for the collision, “due to the traffic conditions and limited visibility.” Betancourt’s action of rolling through the stop sign was an associated factor in the collision.
Using video from an officer’s body camera and a patrol car camera, the CHP calculated that visibility was between 350 and 425 feet. Using crash reconstruction software, investigators estimated that a safe speed for the limited visibility would have been 64 to 72 mph.
As Betancourt was pulling into the intersection, Fulmer’s Nissan “was approximately 392 feet away and most likely not visible to Betancourt,” according to the CHP report.
The CHP submitted its report to the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office in December for consideration of misdemeanor or felony vehicular manslaughter charges against Fulmer.
On Jan. 9, the one-year anniversary of the fatal crash and the deadline for his office to pursue a misdemeanor charge, District Attorney Jeff Laugero sent a memo to the CHP and the Sheriff’s Office saying he would not charge Fulmer with either. However, Betancourt’s sister Elizabeth Madrigal disagrees with Laugero’s decision, saying that the family is “not giving up; we want our voices heard.”
In the wake of the accident and the subsequent investigation, Betancourt’s parents and his girlfriend filed a lawsuit against Fulmer and the Sheriff’s Office in September for wrongful death and negligence. Fulmer countersued Betancourt’s estate and Prado’s father, who owned the vehicle Betancourt was driving.
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