Home Vehicle Accidents Exclusive: Fatal crash details involving Placer CEO revealed

Exclusive: Fatal crash details involving Placer CEO revealed

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Anthony Williams and Todd Leopold are seen in undated photos. Williams, a student at Inderkum High School, died March 19, 2022, after being struck by a vehicle in Rocklin. An advocacy group says Leopold, the CEO of Placer County, was behind the wheel in the incident.

Anthony Williams and Todd Leopold are seen in undated photos. Williams, a student at Inderkum High School, died March 19, 2022, after being struck by a vehicle in Rocklin. An advocacy group says Leopold, the CEO of Placer County, was behind the wheel in the incident.

Inderkum High School; County of Placer

Todd Leopold woke up at 7:30 a.m. on March 19 and spent that Saturday doing typical weekend errands – a trip in his purple 2018 Jeep Wrangler to Costco with his wife, sorting dry cleaning and, later, headed to the gym.

Leopold, then the Placer County chief executive officer, had been dieting since Jan. 3, so for dinner he had a salad and a diet bar before putting on gym clothes and leaving his Rocklin home shortly before 8 p.m. for a trip to Planet Fitness for a workout.

The drive should have taken about six minutes. Leopold never made it.

While driving south on Lonetree Boulevard near Adams Drive, Leopold’s Jeep hit and killed 18-year-old Anthony Williams, an aspiring basketball player and Inderkum High School senior who was standing in the roadway wearing dark clothing, according to a police report reviewed by The Sacramento Bee.

The fatality has left Williams’ family members and friends grieving and has upended Leopold’s life. He was placed on administrative leave two months after the collision, then was fired in June from his $299,606-a-year job after being accused of workplace discrimination and harassment.

The county said at the time that the termination was not related to the collision.

Placer County CEO Todd Leopold participates in a Placer County Board of Supervisors meeting in Auburn on Tuesday, May 10, 2022. He was the the driver of a vehicle that fatally struck Anthony Williams, 18, in late March in Rocklin. Paul Kitagaki Jr. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

The fatal accident is now being reviewed by Placer County District Attorney Morgan Gire’s office, and Leopold since has been sued by Williams’ brother, Isaac Tidwell, in a wrongful death lawsuit filed in Placer Superior Court, as well as by Williams’ sister, Queenisha Wade, in a separate lawsuit.

The details of what happened in that Saturday night crash, which Rocklin police ruled was Williams’ fault for being in the roadway, have not been publicly disclosed until now.

Initially, Rocklin police and Placer County officials refused to acknowledge Leopold was the driver.

Leopold did not respond to a message left on a cellphone listed for him. He did not acknowledge he was the driver until nearly two months after the crash, issuing a statement on a Friday expressing his “profound grief and sadness” after social media posts began naming him as the driver.

Rocklin police have refused to release the full police report on the collision, responding to Public Records Act requests by providing a heavily redacted version that provided few details.

Witnesses: Teen walked in road

But a review by The Bee of the 53-page report reveals that several witnesses saw Williams walking on a median and in the street itself, with at least one other vehicle in front of Leopold swerving to miss Williams just before Leopold hit him at about 40 mph.

The report, which a source familiar with the case provided access to for this story, says a responding police officer “did not observe any signs or symptoms of intoxication or impairment” in Leopold, but the report does not state whether a blood-alcohol content test or field sobriety test was administered.

“There were no odors coming from his breath and he did not slur his words despite the tense emotions he was experiencing,” Officer Colby Abbott wrote in his March 20 report after being dispatched to the scene the night before. “He appeared to be alert and had no difficulty in walking around or providing me the information that I requested.

“Eventually, we requested for a Placer County (chaplain) to respond to the scene to assist in the situation.”

The police report notes that the weather that night was clear and dry, and that the light conditions were dark with street lights in the area. The sun had set at 7:16 that night, and the first call reporting the crash came in at 8:08 p.m., the report says.

Abbott wrote that when he first approached Leopold, “I could see how distraught he was by the grimace on his face, coupled with the red and wateriness of his eyes.”

“Upon contact, the male identified himself as the driver and immediately began saying how he did not see the pedestrian and how sorry he was,” Abbott wrote. “I attempted to reassure him that it was an accident and we would get it all figured out.”

Leopold told police that as he was driving south on Lonetree he passed through the intersection at Adams and “noticed another car ahead of him move over.”

Leopold ‘had no time to apply his brakes’

“At this moment, he was presented with the backside of the pedestrian who was wearing all black or dark clothing and standing directly in the middle of the number one lane,” the police report says. “Todd said that he had no time to apply his brakes, but turned his wheel to the right in an attempt to avoid the pedestrian.”

The fact that another car was in front of Leopold and swerved away from Williams just before the collision reduced Leopold’s ability to see Williams and react to his presence, the report says.

“Todd continued to break down emotionally and say how devastated he was. He said that after striking the male, he stopped to the right of the roadway where his Jeep was currently positioned.”

Leopold spoke to police again on March 23, when he came to department headquarters for an interview with Officer Andrew Barrington and discussed how his day had started out and how he spent that Saturday, including the dinner of a salad and diet bar, the report said, adding that Leopold said he had not consumed any alcohol or medication.

Leopold also said his cellphone was in the center console of his Jeep at the time of the collision and that he was not using it. The report does not say whether officers inspected Leopold’s cellphone to determine if it was in use at the time of the collision.

Barrington wrote in the report that he “conducted the interview in two phases, one where I say little and let (Leopold) talk me through the event, followed by an ask-and-answer-type interview.”

In that interview, Leopold said he first saw Williams when the car in front of him swerved into another lane, and he saw a pedestrian 15 to 20 feet ahead of him in the middle of his lane.

“He tried to slam on his brakes and turn, but he knew there was a car to his right,” the report says. “After he hit the pedestrian, the car alongside him had stopped, so he was able to move over.”

Families and friends created a makeshift memorial after the March 19, 2022, death of Anthony Williams not far from where he was struck by a vehicle on Lonetree Boulevard near Adams Drive in Rocklin, California. Rosalio Ahumada rahumada@sacbee.com

Jeep’s computer probed after crash

Leopold ran into the street to stop approaching cars from running over Williams, and others nearby started CPR, the report says. Leopold estimated he was driving 35 to 42 mph, or “something like that,” and said he thought the speed limit was 45 mph, the report says.

Officers summoned the police department’s Major Accident Investigation Team, and Leopold signed a document giving police permission to search his Jeep, including “all parts electronic and mechanical.”

The Jeep was towed to a secure garage inside the city’s corporation yard, where investigators searched it, checked to determine that controls and switches were all working, found the brakes in good working order and noted that the vehicle’s tires were all terrain models with “good tread” on each of them, the report says.

Investigators also plugged an electronic data retrieval device into the Jeep’s computer system “to determine if any collision data had been captured,” the report says.

The device detected a collision, but determined that it had occurred earlier when the Jeep’s odometer read 25,868, more than 7,700 miles before the mileage recorded when the Jeep was taken by police. Leopold told police that was a 2019 incident when he was behind a mail truck on a hill and the truck rolled back into his Jeep in a slow-speed crash, the report says.

Because the Jeep’s computer had not recorded the collision that killed Williams, and because there were no skid marks from Leopold slamming on his brakes, investigators had to estimate Leopold’s speed “by analyzing the pedestrian’s post impact travel,” the report says.

The result was an estimate that Leopold “was traveling at a speed of between 27-48 mph with a probable speed of 36-40 mph in a 40 mph zone,” the report says.

Inderkum High School basketball player Anthony Williams, pictured above in an undated photo, was fatally struck by a vehicle on March 19, 2022, in Rocklin, Calif. Andrea Angulo

‘Looks like he’s trying to get hit’

Police interviewed several witnesses — drivers at the scene, diners at a nearby restaurant and others who were in the area — and were told that prior to the collision, Williams was walking in the center median before stepping onto the road. One witness said he appeared to be walking or dancing in the street.

“The person did not appear to be paying attention to where he was or the vehicles around him and was pointing at cars and acting strange,” one witness told police, according to the report.

A motorist leaving a nearby Chinese restaurant told police he saw a man step into the southbound lane of Lonetree Boulevard and told his wife, “Looks like he’s trying to get hit,” the report says.

“He described the male as having his head down, not looking around,” the report says. “He watched him walk for at least 20 feet as he passed him, and the male never looked left or right even as cars passed him in the #2 lane.”

The coroner’s report said Williams tested positive for THC in his system at the time of death, and listed the cause of death as “brain stem injury due to blunt head trauma” or “internal decapitation.”

Another witness, Robert Blesi, called police a week after Williams was killed and told them he had nearly struck Williams in the street, but had managed to swerve and miss him, then honked his horn and pumped his brakes to warn other drivers, the report says.

“That boy was walking in the middle of the road, in the fast lane,” Blesi told police. “He was in all dark clothing with a backpack, and I had to swerve to stop from hitting him.”

Blesi did not respond to a request for comment, but told police that Williams was walking down the middle of the lane “like he was meaning to get hit,” the report says.

“It was like there was no sense of danger as he was just walking down the middle of the road,” Blesi said, telling police he believed he missed hitting Williams about five minutes before Leopold struck him.

Blesi said he did not learn until later that the pedestrian had been struck and killed, and told police he called after reading social media posts attacking Leopold.

“I just want to say, you know, that anybody could have hit that guy,” Blesi told police. “He was just walking down the middle of the road like he was planning for it.

“I mean if he was walking down the middle of the road, wanting to die, it’s pretty hard to pin that on the guy that hit him.”

This story was originally published July 14, 2022 5:00 AM.

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Sam Stanton has worked for The Bee since 1991 and has covered a variety of issues, including politics, criminal justice and breaking news.

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