- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

YUMA, Ariz. (AP) - A truck driver said to have been distracted by looking at his cellphone before an accident that killed an Arizona Highway Patrol officer has been sentenced to six years in prison.

Yuma County Superior Court Judge David Haws sentenced 36-year-old Jorge Espinoza of Yuma on Wednesday.

Espinoza was charged with second-degree murder in the May 2013 death of Officer Tim Huffman, but jurors in February instead convicted him of the lesser charge of negligent homicide.

Espinoza also was convicted of six counts each of endangerment and criminal damage.

Huffman was writing a report at an accident scene on Interstate 8 in eastern Yuma County when his patrol vehicle was struck in a multi-vehicle collision involving an empty fuel tanker driven by Espinoza.

Prosecutors argued that Espinoza was distracted by looking at his cellphone to access a social media site.

Espinoza’s defense said the sun blinded him, that DPS did not place adequate signage at the accident scene and that there wasn’t enough distance for him to react.

A state Department of Public Safety captain testified during the trial that Espinoza failed to avoid the accident site despite flashing emergency lights.

The defense also argued that is not against the law to use a cellphone while driving.

Huffman served as a DPS officer for 14 years. He was the first DPS officer to die in the line of duty since 2009.

Since his death, Huffman’s family has been urging the Arizona Legislature to ban use of hand-held devices such as cellphones to write, send or read messages while driving.

DPS Director Frank Milstead said Huffman’s family told him they were satisfied with the sentence and “pleased to have closure.”

“They also empathize with the family of Mr. Espinoza,” Milstead also said in a statement released by his department. “There were no winners today, only a series of losses and hurt. Distracted driving continues to plague our roadways and in some instances change lives forever.”


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