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Kirtland airman arraigned in fatal crash case

A gavel sits in the Luke Air Force Base courtroom. (U.S. Air Force/Released)

Almost a year after Angelica Baca was struck and killed as she crossed a street in Southeast Albuquerque, the Kirtland Air Force Base airman who hit the 39-year-old woman was arraigned.

Baca’s family looked on Wednesday afternoon as Airman Calvin Cooper appeared in military court on charges of reckless driving, voluntary manslaughter and negligent homicide in Baca’s March 23, 2019, death.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Cooper chose to defer any pleas and motions until a later date. His trial is set for the second week of June.

A probable cause hearing was held on Nov. 21 and led the investigating officer, Maj. Joshua Nettinga, to determine there was not probable cause to charge Cooper with reckless driving and voluntary manslaughter. Instead, he recommended the lesser charge of negligent homicide.

Despite those findings Maj. Gen. Craig D. Wills, 19th Air Force commander, ordered that Cooper be court-martialed on all three charges.

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“Airman Cooper looks forward to his day in court. We expect him to be acquitted of all charges,” Capt. Robert Saulter, Cooper’s defense counsel, said in a statement.

The Albuquerque Police Department initially responded to the fatal crash around 7:30 p.m. at Louisiana and Ross SE. Officers found Baca dead in the street and Cooper, along with three other airmen, crashed into a nearby apartment complex.

Police say Cooper was speeding when he used the center median to pass a vehicle and struck Baca, who was standing in the median. Cooper then swerved across two lanes and crashed into the Rising Phoenix apartments.

Soon after, the investigation was handed over to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

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© 2020 the Albuquerque Journal