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Family: "We want laws changed" after Salt River officer struck, killed by distracted driver

Posted at 6:55 AM, Jan 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-11 14:40:50-05

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - If there was ever a time or reason to ban texting while driving, Pete Johnson says it's now.

It's only been three days since Johnson's son-in-law, 26-year-old Officer Clayton Townsend was struck and killed on the Loop 101 near McDowell Road . His daughter, Deanna, now a widow, raising the couple's 10-month-old son, Brixton, on her own is inconsolable.

“She sees Clayton in everything," Johnson said. "Even when I look at Brixton, I see Clayton. So, it’s bittersweet. She loves that little boy, and every time she looks at him it reminds her that her husband is gone.”

Johnson also said, “I have the moments of deep sadness. Salt River came by and gave us memorial stickers. So, I was putting one on my truck, and the sadness I felt looking at that end of watch... and then it turns to anger, because this didn’t have to happen, this was not supposed to happen."

DPS says 40-year-old Jerry Sanstead admitted he was texting his wife about their plans for the night before the crash. Court documents and witnesses say he didn't look up from his phone once.

“The driver of that car made a huge mistake, and he punched a gigantic hole in my family," said Johnson.

Johnson said Townsend was a brilliant father, and loved him like a son. Now, he hopes lawmakers see the need for a ban on texting and driving, hoping it will deter drivers from picking up the phone.

“Even if it stops one person, we have to have stricter penalties," he said. "If somebody’s going to text and drive and take their own lives and lives of other people around them in their hands, they need to be held accountable.”

In a briefing Tuesday night, Townsend was described by Salt River Police Chief Karl Auerbach as "one of the most dedicated, loyal, and committed officers." He had been with the department for five years.

Sanstead was brought into custody on charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and endangerment.

He posted bail and was released from jail early Thursday morning. He told media at the scene he had nothing to say and left in a taxi cab.


  • A benefit car wash will be held Friday, January 11 at the Cobblestone Auto Spa at 15816 N Pima Rd in Scottsdale from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Donations are asked to be at least $5
  • We held a phone bank with The 100 Club of Arizona Wednesday evening for the families of Officer Townsend and other fallen officers. That phone bank raised $36,575. The 100 Club is still accepting donations. Head to their website here .
  • A GoFundMe has also been set up by Townsend's family which can be found here .
  • Salt River police also announced the establishment of of the Clayton Townsend Benefit Memorial Fund on Wednesday evening. Donations can be made to the benefit memorial fund through Wells Fargo Bank, account number: 3535835825 specifically for Townsend's family.