Trial to begin Tuesday in drunken-driving crash that killed Lancaster police officer

Posted Sunday, May. 26, 2013  Print Reprints
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More information Contributions to the Dustin Dodson Memorial Fund to offset education expenses for Dodson’s children can be made at any Chase Bank.

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Others have the luxury of being able to move on, said Courtney Dodson, the wife of a police officer killed by a DWI suspect.

The Dodsons have no such luxury.

“We have a 2-year-old who does not understand what happened, and my 5- and 6-year-olds have behavior problems,” the widow said. “They’re angry. To them, Dad just went off to work one day and never came home.”

An intoxication manslaughter trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday for Ricardo Espinoza, 22, the man accused of causing and driving away from the crash that killed Dustin Dodson, a 25-year-old Lancaster police officer who had a wife and three children.

The crash was reported about 6:30 a.m. July 21. A witness followed Espinoza to a residence and tackled him before he could run inside, according to police.

“He was 50 feet from his back door,” Courtney Dodson said. “If he had gotten into his house, we probably would never have known who hit my husband.”

It was hours after the crash before Courtney Dodson was shown the mangled body of her husband at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. The police officer never regained consciousness, his widow said. He was kept on life support until several of his organs could be harvested for transplant, relatives said.

About 11 p.m., an official with the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office declared Dustin Dodson a homicide victim who died from a skull fracture.

Courtney Dodson said she spoke to her husband for the last time about 1:30 a.m. She said good night and went to bed, expecting that in six hours he would roll up in the driveway on his motorcycle and rev the engine, a signal for her to get up and unlock the front door.

Instead, she awoke about 8:30 a.m. to a knock at the door from Janet Beesley, a Lancaster police officer.

“I knew something was wrong,” she said. “It was way too late. She [Beesley] said I needed to call someone to watch the kids, get dressed and then come with her. I just started backing up from the door and telling her no. It was like everyone knew except me.”

The Lancaster Police Department has 53 officers, said Police Chief Larry Flatt. Dustin Dodson, 25, was one of the youngest and had been on the force two years. Beesley, whom Courtney Dodson described as her husband’s office mama, had taken the young police officer under her wing, Flatt said.

“She had talked to him about driving that motorcycle back and forth to work,” Flatt said. “She told him that it would be a shame if something happened to him, with a wife and three children depending on him.”

Ernie Maggard, the witness, told Dodson’s relatives that he was traveling on U.S. 67 at Farm Road 2738 that Saturday when he saw a pickup turn right in front of a motorcycle rider, according to Mark Dodson, Dustin’s father.

“He took out Dustin and just kept going,” Mark Dodson said. “It’s ironic that he was taken out by a drunk driver, something that he fought against every day.”

Maggard followed the damaged, smoking truck to a nearby residence and saw the driver run toward the house, Mark Dodson said.

“Ernie takes the guy down and holds him for the police,” Mark Dodson said. “As far as we’re concerned, he’s a hero.”

J. Warren St. John, Espinoza’s attorney, declined to comment on the upcoming trial.

Dodson’s relatives said they hope people will pack the courthouse during the trial in a show of support for the police, their loved ones and their anger about drunken driving.

Although the case drew a lot of attention after the wreck, people have their own lives and families to worry about and will move on, Mark Dodson said.

But for the Dodsons, closure is an illusion.

“It’s hard to talk to the kids about it,” Mark Dodson said. “All they know is that a guy killed their dad. The youngest, who is just learning how to talk, woke up one day and said, ‘One day I’m going to get the guy who killed my dad.’ People say they understand what it’s like. But until you lose a son or daughter, you don’t.”

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752 Twitter: @mitchmitchel3