Deputy's record questioned after crashes

Wednesday, September 10th 2008, 10:24 pm
By: News 9

By Rusty Surette, NEWS 9

STILLWATER, Okla. -- A Payne County deputy's driving record is being questioned after he wrecked a law enforcement vehicle for the third time in his career, officials said.

Payne County Deputy Justin Colton totaled his car last month while responding to a call. His driving records show it's the third time he has crashed a government vehicle.

On August 19, Colton was en route to a call for help when he lost control of his unit and slammed into a tree just outside Stillwater. A report by the highway patrol stated Colton was distracted by his police radio when he crashed.

The 29-year-old was trapped for over an hour, but survived the crash.

Sheriff Noel Bagwell said the close call wasn't the first time Colton totaled a cruiser.

In April, he survived a crash near Cushing. Troopers said the deputy was on patrol when he left the road and flipped the car.

OHP said Colton fell asleep at the wheel. His wife said he suffers from sleep apnea and the sheriff said Colton was treated for it.

"Highway patrol worked that accident and we've done an investigation," Bagwell said. "He went to his doctors and things for his safety and ours as well."

In 2003, now-retired Sheriff Carl Hiner first hired Colton as a jailer, but he was fired following an arrest for drinking and driving. The case was dismissed due to a technicality in the paper work filed.

In 2005, Colton was hired by the Stroud Police Department as a patrol officer, despite having a driving record that included speeding, illegal passing and seat belt violations.

In 2006, Colton was still with the city of Stroud when he wrecked his first police car.

A year later, in 2007, Colton went back to the Payne County Sheriff's Office where then-Sheriff Hiner re-hired Colton, almost four years after he was fired for driving drunk.

In a telephone interview, Hiner said Colton was "a kid" when he was picked up for the DUI and only a jailer, and had since "changed" and wanted to give him "a second chance."

Bagwell won't comment on Colton's future with the sheriff's office, but he said he does plan to give his deputies more training behind the wheel.

"There will be some refresher driver training courses as time goes on for everybody in our department that drives a unit," Bagwell said.

Colton's wife said accidents are common among patrol officers due to the large amount of time they spend on the roads.

She also said Colton's last accident was more than likely due to a mechanical defect in the car he was driving.