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Cop was dad of 10-month-old and cancer survivor. A texting driver killed him, police say

Salt River Police officer Clayton Townsend died in Scottsdale, Arizona, after police say Jerry Sanstead Jr. was texting and driving and ran into the cop, who was a father of a 10-month-old baby boy.
Salt River Police officer Clayton Townsend died in Scottsdale, Arizona, after police say Jerry Sanstead Jr. was texting and driving and ran into the cop, who was a father of a 10-month-old baby boy. Screengrab from GoFundMe

After Arizona police say a distracted driver ran into and killed officer Clayton Townsend, his mom is left trying to cope with the loss.

“There’s no text that is so important that it can take a father away from their wife,” Toni Townsend told AZFamily, “or a dad away from their son.”

Clayton Townsend, a 5-year officer with the Salt River Police Department, had pulled over a driver Tuesday evening and was outside of his car on the side of the road, according to AZCentral. That’s when police say 40-year-old Jerry Sanstead, who was on his phone, drove his car into the officer in Scottsdale. Townsend later died at Honor Health Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center, the outlet reported.

Now, his family is left to pick up the pieces. It’s especially challenging because Townsend was the father of a 10-month-old boy named Brixton, according to AZFamily.

“There’s truly no word in any human language that is describing the pain that we’re going through,” Toni Townsend told AZFamily.

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. This new spot from NHTSA examines the impact a simple text can have on you and those you love. Drivers are encouraged to join the conversation by using the hashtag #justdrive. "If you're textin

For Ellie Shorer, the officer’s cousin, Clayton Townsend was a special person who “loved everyone he met,” according to Fox10.

Her memories of the fallen officer span back to her childhood, she said.

“I remember when I was little at the old house, I couldn’t shoot the basketball, so he would pick me up and I can throw it in there,” Shorer recalled, according to Fox10. “What I will miss the most are his hugs.”

And as for his mother?

“Smiles, smiles, smiles,” Toni Townsend told Fox10. “Dimples, and just a curious kid.”

As of Friday morning, over $37,000 had been raised on a GoFundMe page to provide support for his baby and wife Deanna.

“Clayton was also a cancer survivor and was not eligible for additional life insurance,” the page reads. “... Nothing can fill the loss of Clayton but please help support his family through this terrible loss. Our goal is to provide some financial support for Brixton and Deanna.”

maricopa county sheriff.jpeg
Jerry Sanstead Jr. — Maricopa County Sheriff

Sanstead, who said he “was responding to a text from his wife using the voice-to-text feature on his phone,” left jail early Thursday morning on $100,000 bond on charges including manslaughter, police said, according to AZCentral.

As noted by the Department of Motor Vehicles, “the act of texting and driving in Arizona is not illegal throughout the entire state.”

But his family is aiming to change that in honor of their fallen son.

“Everyone agrees that there needs to be a law enacted,” Toni Townsend told Fox10. “Something needs to be done, because we continue to see tragic incidents, and people are taken from their family.”

It’s especially personal for Kevin Ridgeway, uncle to Clayton Townsend, because he says he was also the victim of a distracted driver. According to 12News, Ridgeway said he “broke dozens of bones, lost a kidney, suffered a collapsed lung and was unconscious for five weeks” when a texting driver ran into his car.

“(Deanna Townsend) lost her best friend, her soulmate,” Ridgeway told 12News. “(That’s) what he means to her, as well as the father of her child, who unfortunately never gets to know what he was like as a human and as a father.

“Let’s just really hope and pray this is the last time we have to have this type of conversation,” he added, according to 12News.

Most people are aware of the dangers of trying to multitask while driving, but most continue to do it anyway.

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