A beloved Grand Prairie police officer died Friday after a 17-year-old driver lost control of his vehicle and crashed into him as he worked outside of his vehicle along the President George Bush Turnpike Friday morning, police say.
Grand Prairie police said Friday afternoon that 38-year-old police officer Albert “A.J.” Castaneda Jr. was parked on the shoulder running radar, standing outside of his SUV patrol vehicle, when he was struck and thrown from the elevated roadway at about 10:40 a.m.
“It is with deep sadness that I announce we have lost one of our Grand Prairie PD officers this morning. Our department is hurting. Our community is hurting. Our city is hurting. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we move forward,” Chief Steve Dye said on Twitter.
Castaneda was a 5-year veteran of the Grand Prairie Police Department and was assigned to the Patrol Division. Before working with the GPPD he served six years with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department. Castaneda was a previously a member of the U.S. Coast Guard from 2000 to 2008.
Castaneda was the loving father of an 11-year-old son with special needs.
Dye said Castaneda grew up in the Dalworth area and that every week he’d return to his old neighborhood and buy pizza for kids at a rec center. Dye mentioned he did this of his own accord because he wanted to give back
“He didn’t want attention. He didn’t want recognition. He gave back as good, or better, than any officer than I’ve ever seen in my 35 years. If I had to describe a model police officer, AJ would be one that would come to mind first,” Dye said.
Dye said as recently as last fall Castaneda was honored for saving the life of a choking baby.
During Friday’s news conference, Dye thanked an off-duty Arlington police officer who witnessed the crash and stopped to notify the Grand Prairie PD of what took place and to offer first aid to Castaneda.
“I also want to thank the staff of Medical City Arlington. They were courageous in their attempts to save our officer, but we believe he was lost immediately,” Dye said. “What they did to try to save him, and their grace after the fact to show respect for this officer, our department and the family, can never be repaid.”
With dozens of officers at attention, a flag-draped casket carrying Castaneda was loaded into a hearse at Medical City Arlington shortly before 3:30 p.m.
From there, Castaneda was escorted to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Along the way, firefighters could be seen on highway overpasses saluting the procession as it passed.
One Grand Prairie resident, Johnathan Mendez, went to the hospital to show support for the department.
“I support my community, my Grand Prairie Police officers,” said Jonathan Mendez, a Grand Prairie resident who heard the news and came to the hospital to show support for police. “Cause I have a burden in my heart that I care about our officers,” Mendez explained
The crash happened at about 10:30 a.m. along an elevated stretch of the President George Bush Turnpike/Texas 161 near Dickey Road.
From Texas SkyRanger, Castaneda’s Grand Prairie police SUV was seen on the shoulder along with a Datson 300ZX. Both vehicles were damaged, with the driver door of the SUV peeled back and the Datsun facing the wrong way.
Police officers at the scene told NBC 5 that the officer was outside of his vehicle running radar when the crash occurred.
Grand Prairie police were seen investigating two areas, one along the elevated roadway near the site of the collision and a second scene below the overpass. Investigators have not yet determined what caused the 17-year-old driver to lose control of his vehicle.
Police said Friday afternoon that no charges have been filed in the crash but that the investigation is ongoing. Dye said Friday afternoon that the driver showed no visual signs of impairment.
Castaneda was taken to Medical City Arlington where he was pronounced dead at 10:58 a.m.
The driver of the Datsun was evaluated at the scene and was not seriously injured.
All northbound lanes of Texas 161 are shut down in the area and traffic is being directed to the service road, police tweeted
The Texas Department of Public Safety is assisting in the investigation and is working to determine how the driver lost control of his vehicle.
Only two Grand Prairie police officers have been killed in the line of duty. The most recent, Sgt. Gregory Lei Hunter, was shot and killed during an investigation of a suspicious vehicle in 2004. Prior to that, Officer Lyndon Fred King died after being struck by a drunken driver in 1982