Utah police said Monday they are investigating whether three juveniles in a stolen car intentionally hit an officer killed during a car chase.
The car had veered toward other officers shortly before it fatally struck Officer Cody Brotherson, 25, in a Salt Lake City suburb on Sunday, authorities said.
Brotherson had gotten out of his car in the pre-dawn darkness Sunday when he was hit, apparently to lay down a set of spike strips designed to stop the car by puncturing its tires.
He had removed the equipment from his car and moved some distance away from the vehicle, but officers are investigating exactly what he was doing when he was hit, West Valley City Police Chief Lee Russo said. Officers are trained get behind some kind of barrier for protection when they deploy spike strips, but it's not clear whether Brotherson had time to do that before he was struck, Russo told The Associated Press.
After hitting the officer, the stolen car careened down an embankment and slammed into a fence. The three males got out and ran, but they were caught and taken into custody.
Investigators are looking for whether footage from Brotherson's body camera made it through the collision intact or if other officers' cameras recorded what happened.
Brotherson grew up in West Valley City and had long dreamed of becoming an officer, his mother Jenny Peterson told reporters. "That dream was realized three years ago but was cut short," she said.
Her son was a jokester who protected his family and would do anything for those he loved, she said. He leaves two brothers and a fiancee.
His patrol car was adorned with a blue sash and black roses and placed in a West Valley City park as a place for people to leave condolences, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. His funeral was set for Nov. 14.
Brotherson started in December 2013 as the department recovered from a rocky period. Public confidence in the department hit a low after the high-profile shooting of an unarmed woman during a drug investigation. The narcotics unit was disbanded after a subsequent probe found officers kept souvenirs from drug busts and mishandled evidence. It was re-stablished last year.
Brotherson was the first West Valley City officer to die since the department was formed in 1980 and the second officer to die on the job in Utah this year.
He was preceded by Doug Barney, an officer with Salt Lake County's Unified Police Department who was the first officer death in the country in 2016. Barney was working overtime to pay off his cancer treatments when he was shot and killed by a parolee while investigating a traffic accident.