SOUTH SALT LAKE — He wasn't the one driving the car that hit and killed a police officer last month, but prosecutors say a Murray man is still responsible for the death and they filed a murder charge against him Thursday.
Jeffrey Don Black, 43, was a passenger in the Chevrolet Impala that struck and killed South Salt Lake police officer David Romrell on Nov. 24 as he and the driver tried to get away from police, according to charging documents.
Officers had turned on their emergency lights and yelled at the car to stop, but instead it accelerated, fatally wounding the 31-year-old Romrell, prosecutors say. Romrell was a former U.S. Marine who had been with the department not yet a year.
Romrell and another officer were responding to a report from a woman who heard two people trying to break into her home near 3500 S. West Temple when the deadly confrontation happened.
The driver of the car also died after one or both of the officers shot him, according to prosecutors. Felix Anthony Calata, 32, of West Valley City, hobbled out of the car while it was still moving, Black allegedly said in a police interview. Officers eventually found the wounded Calata and took him to a hospital, where he died from the gunshot wounds, the charges state.
Calata had been driving, detectives confirmed, because the location of bullet holes in the car matched his wounds. A separate investigation into the shots fired by police is ongoing.
Black is charged with murder, a first-degree felony, under a legal rule that extends the definition of murder to include a circumstance when a person engaged in a different crime kills someone else in the process, said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.
"What we do know is they went out there to commit a burglary. … They saw the command to stop, and they decided to make a run for it, and in the process they ended up causing the death of officer," Gill said. "This was an absolute tragedy."
Black told police that Calata uttered an expletive as officers yelled at the driver to stop as their red and blue lights flashed before he accelerated toward the officer to get away, the charges state.
"Black stated he believed they ran over a mail box" before gunfire targeted the moving car, the court documents say, echoing a statement Black made to reporters after his arrest, when he also said he felt sorry for the slain officer.
After Calata got out, Black told officers he then drove the car into a pole and hid in a boat for more than an hour until officers found him, charging documents state. Black was handcuffed and questioned that night, but was then released.
He agreed to speak to police again two days later, telling them he had driven the car to the burglary scene before police arrived and retrieved a crowbar from the trunk that Calata used unsuccessfully to try to pry open a door, the charges say. Black recalled telling Calata "it was taking too long. They were going to leave when he saw the police officers' vehicles with their red and blue lights activated. Black stated he heard the police officers yelling, 'Police Stop!'" according to the court documents.2 comments on this story
In addition to murder, Black is also charged with robbery and obstructing justice, second-degree felonies, and attempted burglary, a third-degree felony. He is also charged with failing to stop at the command of an officer, a class A misdemeanor. No attorney was listed for him in court documents.
An autopsy determined Romrell's cause of death was blunt force trauma. He is survived by his wife and a 4-month-old son, and was laid to rest Wednesday following a funeral in West Valley City.
Court records show Black has faced several criminal charges in Utah dating back to 2001, and pleaded guilty in some theft cases. He was being held in Salt Lake County Jail Thursday. Bail is set at $1 million.