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Officer dies after being hit by alleged drunk driver

10:24 PM, May 29, 2012   |    comments
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On Tuesday afternoon, Englewood Police confirmed Officer Jeremy Bitner passed away on Monday after he was struck by a car driven by Conner Donohue, 20.

Donohue is accused of driving drunk near the intersection of South Broadway Street and East Belleview Avenue Monday morning and hitting Bitner and a driver whom the officer had pulled over for a traffic stop

On Tuesday morning, Donohue faced a judge. He appeared stone faced as his bond was set at $100,000.

Donohue's lawyer told 9NEWS his client will likely be in jail for a few more days before posting bond. Once he is released, Donohue will not be allowed to drive or drink alcohol, and he will have to wear an ankle device.

The officer was talking with a 20-year-old man he had just pulled over for a traffic violation, when an SUV slammed into both of them and took off. According to police, Donohue was driving the SUV. Police say he was caught a few minutes later and arrested.

The two men hit by the SUV were taken to Swedish Medical Center in Englewood. <>

The family of 20-year-old Kevin Montoya, the man who was pulled over, says he is improving, is talking and is conscious. Witnesses say both men flew into the air upon impact, and Donohue fled the scene. A witness followed the SUV and called 911. A few minutes later police pulled over Donohue. Police say Donohue was intoxicated.

At the time of the crash, Kevin Montoya's uncle was in the passenger seat of his car.

"My eyes, I couldn't believe what I was seeing," Robert Hunter, Montoya's uncle, said. "We heard stuff smashing and breaking and things flying, and Kevin went flying. I mean, I'm serious. He was 20 feet off the ground, and he went 50 feet out. He slammed off the curb up onto the sidewalk."

Montoya's father was also in the back seat.

"It was pretty horrifying actually to see your son go flying by your car after he got nailed by a truck," Dennis Hunter, Montoya's father, said.

Montoya's family members say they are not sure why he was pulled over. The officer was discussing the reason for the stop when the collision occurred. Montoya's family is questioning why he was brought out of the car in the first place.

"There was a 5-foot-wide sidewalk right there. They both could have avoided getting hit if they would have went over here on the sidewalk," Hunter said. "There was no reason for them to be standing in the street."

An Englewood Police spokesperson says that is an option an officer will use from time to time.

"Sometimes what you want to do is pull the driver out and explain things and that apparently is what our officer was doing," Officer Perry Schellpfeffer, with the Englewood Police Department, said.

The hit-and-run took an emotional toll on the few dozen officers in the Englewood police force. Many stopped by the hospital to check on their fellow officer. Some were in tears by the afternoon, around the same time the media stopped receiving updates on the officer's condition.

9NEWS stopped by Conner Donohue's home in Aurora on Monday. His parents wouldn't answer the door, but a family member said over the phone they have no comment on his arrest. Donohue's Facebook page says he's a 2010 graduate of Rangeview High School, was attending Metro State, and worked at King Soopers.

Donohue has no prior adult arrest record in the state of Colorado. Donohue's family says he just made a very terrible mistake. Donahue is now facing two counts of vehicular assault, two counts of fleeing the scene, and DUI.

Donohue's grandfather told 9NEWS over the phone, "He's a fantastic kid. He just got into a little trouble it seems like."

Bitner, 39, was an eight-year veteran of the department. He leaves behind a wife and two children.

Bitner served in Bosnia with the Airborne Infantry unit of the U.S. Army. 

The fact that Bitner died on Memorial Day makes the news even more devastating for the many pepole who loved and respected him. Bitner's brother-in-law Mark Trees posted on Facebook that Bitner was a patriot, a dedicated husband and father of two.

Bitner became an Englewood police officer in December 2004.  During his time at the department he worked patrol, SWAT and field training.  He also spent time there as a voice stress examiner and was CIT certified. 

In 2005 Bitner received a commendation for assisting/disarming a suspect with a handgun. In 2006 he received the Medal of Gallantry for disarming a suspect with a handgun. 

Englewood Police has 36 patrol officers on its force. Bitner is the first Englewood police officer ever killed in the line of duty.

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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