Two police officers and a prisoner they were transporting were killed early Saturday in a fiery crash on an interstate highway in Iowa that investigators say was caused by a wrong-way driver, who also died.
Des Moines officers Susan Farrell and Carlos Puente-Morales, who had been on the job less than six months, were killed in the crash that occurred around 12:40 a.m. Saturday on Interstate 80 west of Des Moines, police spokesman Sgt. Paul Parizek said.
The officers had been returning the prisoner from Council Bluffs to Des Moines when their sport utility vehicle was struck by a vehicle driving the wrong way on the freeway, police said.
Both officers and the driver of the other vehicle were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash, Parizek said. Investigators had not yet determined by Saturday morning whether the prisoner being transported was wearing a seat belt, he said.
The Iowa State Patrol is investigating.
Parizek and Police Chief Dana Wingert were visibly upset at a news conference held later Saturday morning to give initial details of the crash.
Farrell, 30, and Puente-Morales, 34, had graduated from the police academy in October, Parizek said.
"We face a nightmare that no one ever wants to experience," Wingert said during the conference. "Words cannot express what this loss means."
The last Des Moines officer killed in the line of duty was Officer Sean Wissink, 35, who also died in a crash, Parizek said. Wissink was killed in February 2007 when he lost control of his SUV on Iowa Highway 141 north of Grimes.
Gov. Terry Branstad issued a statement Saturday extending sympathy to the families of those killed and saying he would issue an order next week for flags to be lowered to half-staff to honor the officers.
"Our hearts are heavy this Easter weekend," Branstad said.