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Woman handcuffed in police car hit by freight train reaches $8.5M settlement


A woman who sued two Colorado cities reached an $8.5 million settlement this week after she was severely injured during a 2022 traffic stop when a train struck the police cruiser she was left handcuffed inside as it was parked on train tracks.

Yareni Rios-Gonzalez will receive equal payments from the cities of Platteville and Fort Lupton as part of the settlement agreement. Officers from both cities had responded to a call about a road-rage incident on Sept. 16, 2022.

Rios-Gonzalez had stopped her car just past some train tracks after being pulled over by a Platteville police officer. Police body-camera footage showed the officer parking their patrol vehicle in the middle of the train tracks and two Fort Lupton officers arriving to assist.

Rios-Gonzalez was then handcuffed and locked inside the cruiser when a train hurtled toward it shortly after. She later sued Platteville, Fort Lupton and the three police officers involved in the incident. The settlement money will be paid by the cities’ insurers, an attorney representing two of the officers confirmed to The Washington Post.

Paul Wilkinson, an attorney for Rios-Gonzalez, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening. He told Colorado Public Radio that the settlement was “a hard-fought result.”

“She is still recovering from some physical and emotional impacts that she’ll be dealing with for the rest of her life,” Wilkinson said of his client.

Platteville Police Chief Carl Dwyer on Wednesday apologized to Rios-Gonzalez in a statement to The Post. The Platteville Police Department “remains committed to providing the best service possible for all who reside, visit and travel through our community,” he said in the statement, adding that the settlement was in the best interests of Platteville residents.

Fort Lupton Police Chief William Carnes said in a news release Tuesday that the settlement was voluntary and “to the mutual satisfaction” of those involved, adding that it “recognizes the gravity of this matter, and allows all parties to move forward.”

On the night of the accident, a Platteville police officer pulled over Rios-Gonzalez after receiving a report of a “road rage incident involving a firearm” earlier in the day, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Two officers from Fort Lupton arrived to help with what the agency called a “high-risk traffic stop.”

An officer then handcuffed Rios-Gonzalez — who could be heard on body-camera footage asking what was happening — and locked her in the Platteville police vehicle. A train horn sounded in the distance as the officers searched Rios-Gonzalez’s vehicle, where KTVZ reported they found a gun in the center console.

Shortly after, a train struck the vehicle with Rios-Gonzalez inside.

“Oh, my God. Oh, my God!” a female officer can be heard saying on body-camera footage as the train hit the cruiser.

Rios-Gonzalez suffered a traumatic brain injury, the Associated Press reported. She later pleaded no contest to misdemeanor menacing, her lawyer told the AP.

Two officers were charged in the incident and both were terminated by their departments. Jordan Steinke, the Fort Lupton officer who placed Rios-Gonzalez inside the car, was convicted of assault and reckless endangerment in July, and was sentenced in September to supervised probation and community service. Pablo Vazquez, the Platteville officer, pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment in December and was sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation, the AP reported.

Steinke, during her sentencing hearing in September, gave Rios-Gonzalez an emotional apology.

“What happened that night has haunted me,” she said, adding: “I remember your cries and your screams.”



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