SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A man who was a passenger in a car that fatally rammed a police officer in a Salt Lake City suburb has been arrested on suspicion of murder, burglary and other charges, police said.
As suspect Jeffrey Don Black, 43, was being led away in handcuffs Monday night from a police station, he insisted he didn’t know a person had been killed.
“I didn’t know it was a cop. I thought it was a mailbox,” he said before expressing his sympathy about the death.
Police allowed Black to stop and answer questions in an unusual exchange with reporters who had received a police news release about when Black would be led from the station.
Black was arrested in the Saturday death of South Salt Lake Police Officer David Romrell, who was struck when he tried to stop a car while investigating a burglary report, police said.
Black isn’t accused of directly causing the officer’s death, but under Utah law accomplices are considered equally responsible for fatalities during crimes, and Black was involved in the burglary and subsequent chase, said Sgt. Melody Gray with Unified Police of Salt Lake County. He has not yet been formally charged.
After officers arrived, driver Felix Anthony Calata, 31, accelerated and fatally struck Romrell, police said. Calata was shot and killed by police.
Officers caught Black after the crash, but Unified Police said there was no probable cause for an arrest and released him. They later said Black provided false information, but authorities did not elaborate.
Pleas by Romrell’s widow prompted police to reopen the investigation and collect more evidence, South Salt Lake police spokesman Gary Keller said.
Black told reporters he had known Calata for a few days and was with him Saturday night to recover money owed to Calata.
Police say in jail documents that Calata had tried unsuccessfully to use a crowbar to enter a building, and he and Black were leaving in a car when they saw police. Black heard police yell for them to stop, but Catala decided instead to hit the gas to try and get away, the documents state.
When officers shot and killed Calata, Black steered the car into a traffic pole then ran and hid beneath a boat until police found him.
Court records show Black has a criminal history that includes DUI, forgery and drug charges. An attorney listed for him in a separate case declined to comment.