Wrong-way driver dies after crash on freeway ramp - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Wrong-way driver, off-duty Mesa officer die after crash on freeway ramp

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Officer Brandon Mendoza Officer Brandon Mendoza
PHOENIX (KSAZ) - A Mesa police officer was killed by a wrong-way driver on a valley freeway overnight.  The wreckage of the fiery crash was cleared by mid-morning, but the charred freeway walls are a reminder of just how violent the impact must have been.

Officer Brandon Mendoza, a 13-year veteran of the force was known for his work in the community.  He was on his way home when he was hit and killed.  The other driver's name has not been released. His body was badly burned in the fire.

According to the Department of Public Safety, they started getting 9-1-1 calls about a wrong-way driver on the Loop 101 at Cactus.  Those calls continued as the driver made his way north -- in the southbound lanes, then merged onto State Route 51, where he continued to drive the wrong way.  DPS officers tried to stop him at the 51 and Thomas.  He swerved and then made his way onto Interstate 10, eventually crashing into Mendoza on an on-ramp.

Chief Milstead called Officer Mendoza an icon for the Mesa Police Department, saying he's the kind of officer every chief wants their officers to be.  Not only did Mendoza help people while on-duty, he also spent lots of time off-duty, volunteering to help people in the community.

Mendoza helped rebuild Guerro Rotary Park.  It needed a lot of work and he volunteered his time to get it in tip top shape for the kids.

But Mendoza wasn't just an officer.  He was a friend to many and he was a son to a mother who is now coping with a tremendous loss a day after Mother's Day.

"Brandon will be remembered for his kindness, his love for the way he cared for everyone he came into contact with.. I can't think of one person who knew Brandon that didn't love him," said Mary Ann Mendoza.  "He knew he wanted to be a police officer since he was 14.  He told me that he was going to be and he conducted his life so that's where he'd go.  Brandon always went the extra mile.  He cared about people.. the stories he'd tell me broke my heart, but Brandon always made the outcome good for whoever was involved and I'm very, very proud of him.  I am so proud of him, but he was taken too soon.  There is still too much he needed to do in this world, but as his friends have told me, we're going to live that out for him.  People are going to know who he was, the senseless way he was taken breaks my heart.  I didn't go to bed after spending Mother's Day with him thinking that would be the last day with my son.  He stopped for diner so we had Mother's Day dinner.  His older brother made dinner.  I never knew that would be the last time I'd see him, so I'm thankful my last Mother's Day I got to spend time with him."

Mendoza graduated from Mesa High School.  A patrol officer for 13 years, he had just passed his sergeant's exam.

Mendoza is remembered as a brave patrol officer with a gentle soul.  He rescued animals in need.  He found a pit bull named Lucy tied to a tree in his patrol area.  Mendoza fostered her for weeks and nursed her back to health until he found her a home.

Not only did he keep the streets of Mesa safe, he made an impact and a difference in the lives of people in the community. As he demonstrated this past December when he was interviewed for a toy drive for a family.

"I have two families I'm going to fill up the cart for," Mendoza said during a live interview last December on FOX 10.  He picked four disadvantaged kids in his patrol area and bought Christmas gifts for them.

"Just getting to know them over the last year, learning the stories, understanding that grandparents are now taking care of all four children, we decided that we would want to adopt them for Christmas," he said.

Officer Mendoza leaves behind a legacy.

It was a somber sight Monday morning as the body of Officer Mendoza was carried from Maricopa Medical Center to the coroner's office.  There was a full police escort through downtown Phoenix, with motorcycle officers leading the way.

The flag at the American Legion on 7th Avenue was lowered to half staff as a tribute to Officer Mendoza.

But there are still a lot of questions about why the driver who hit him was able to make it 35 miles without being stopped.

DPS is highly aware to the fact that people are asking why couldn't they stop this guy in time.  They say this tragedy was barreling down four freeways -- they scrambled with every resource they had, but couldn't stop it.

The calls started pouring in just after 12:30 a.m.

"There's a crazy man driving on the wrong side of the road."

Alarmed drivers heading towards Scottsdale on Loop 101 reported the wrong-way driver.

Nine DPS officers tried to stop the 42-year-old man speeding in a 2006 Chevrolet Trailblazer. 

"There's a guy going southbound on the northbound lanes of the 51.. he almost hit me.. he's probably going 80.. 90 miles an hour."

He traveled 35 miles in 22 minutes.  One officer tried to ram the driver as he traveled south in the northbound lanes of SR 51.

"This particular.. we can't get behind him, so we have to wrong-way with him. So the best thing this officer could do was see this car coming and try to move toward him, try to hit his car, slam it," said DPS' Bart Graves.

The wrong-way driver swerved and avoided the patrol car, continued down the 51 to I-10, then finally to the U.S. 60 flyover ramp, driving the wrong-way on all four freeways.

Officer Mendoza was driving his Volkswagen Jetta home after work and tragically on that ramp when he collided there with teh driver.

"But this is a very fast moving situation.  We did what we could.. everybody that anybody to do with this tragic incident feels pretty bad, pretty awful.. if we lost anybody to a wrong-way driver and this is especially awful to this officer's family," said Graves.

Graves says they spent a lot of time looking for this driver -- they would get to one location and he wouldn't be there.  They would have to wait for the next 9-1-1 call.  There were 33 calls in all.

The driver of the vehicle that hit Mendoza was later identified as Raul Silva Corona.  Authorities say he died from blunt force trauma.

Candlelight vigil for Brandon Mendoza
May 13, 7:30pm
Mesa Police Department Headquarters Memorial
130 N. Robson
Mesa, AZ
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