Fort Lupton officer found guilty of assault, reckless endangerment for putting handcuffed woman in police car hit by train

Police body camera video from Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, shows police illegally parked on train tracks in Weld County.
Fort Lupton Police via 9News
Police video from Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, shows a train as it’s about to hit a police car illegally parked on tracks in Weld County.

Updated at 3:38 p.m. on July 28, 2023.

A judge in Weld County has found Jordan Steinke, a former Fort Lupton police officer who put a handcuffed woman in a parked police car that was hit by a freight train, guilty of reckless endangerment and third degree assault. She was acquitted of criminal attempt to commit reckless manslaughter.

Steinke’s case was decided by 19th Judicial District Judge Timothy Kerns, after she waived her right to a jury trial. Opening statements began Monday and the trial wrapped Friday afternoon.

The basic facts of what happened Sept. 16, 2022 were not in dispute. 

Former Platteville police officer Pablo Vazquez pulled over Yareni Rios-Gonzalez for an alleged road rage incident involving a gun in Weld County, near Highway 85 and County road 38. Steinke and another Fort Lupton officer arrived and placed the 20 year-old in the back of Vazquez’s patrol car, which was illegally parked on the tracks.

During a search of Rios-Gonzalez’s pickup truck, a train hit the patrol car while she was inside. She suffered severe injuries, including several broken bones and a traumatic brain injury. Her attorney said the crash left Rios-Gonzalez with amnesia, and that she has no memory of what prior to being hit.

Steinke’s defense said their client was too focused on Rios-Gonzalez to notice the tracks, despite body cam footage showing several crossing signs within feet of the vehicle. They called several witnesses to testify about Steinke’s state of mind, including a veteran investigator who said the tracks were flush with the ground.

“You cannot disregard a risk of which you are unaware, no matter how obvious that risk may later seem,” said defense lawyer Mallory Revel in her opening statements Monday.

There were no gates at the crossing, and it was dark at the time of the crash. However prosecutors argued Steinke was familiar with the area and regularly crossed the same tracks multiple times in a normal day.

Still, Kerns said the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Steinke knowingly put Yareni Rios-Gonzalez at risk when she locked her in the back of the Platteville officer’s car.

Steinke testified this week that while she observed the train tracks, she “did not perceive” them while walking Rios-Gonzalez to the car. That comment helped lead Kerns to the conclusion that Steinke acted recklessly, but not knowingly.

“When she testified to that, I wrote down ‘what does that mean?’ And then I thought about that, and frankly, this is what it means to the court. It's the equivalent of acknowledging that she was aware of the signs and information that this was a railroad track, but didn't appreciate the risk,” Kerns said. 

“‘Recklessly’ is the conscious disregard of awareness. Lack of appreciation is, in fact, the disregard of what she consciously observed… The standard for recklessness is conscious disregard. The reason for the disregard may be in dispute. The fact that she discarded what she consciously was aware of, however, has been proven to the court beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Steinke is set to be sentenced Sept. 15. 

Both the charges Steinke was convicted on are misdemeanors in Colorado. Reckless endangerment carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a fine up to $750, while third degree assault has a max sentence of 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Vasquez, the former Platteville officer who parked the car across the tracks, is facing eight misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment. He is due to appear in court in August.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified what municipality the officer formerly worked for. Jordan Steinke was a former Fort Lupton officer.