Kirtland airman gets 5-year sentence for car wreck

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Editor’s note: a previous version of this article contained a 2018 Air Force photo of then Senior Airman Calvin Cooper; this was done by mistake as he is not the Calvin Cooper mentioned in this article.

Edmundo Carrillo

Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

Feb. 4—A Kirtland Air Force Base airman will spend time in confinement and be kicked out of the Air Force for killing a pedestrian in southeast Albuquerque in March 2019.

Calvin Cooper was sentenced Wednesday to five years and will be discharged from the Air Force for bad conduct. But the panel opted not to dishonorably discharge him.

On Tuesday, Cooper was found guilty of negligent homicide, voluntary manslaughter and reckless driving after a trial by court martial that began last week. He’ll be held in confinement immediately, but the location of his full sentence will later be determined by the Department of Air Force Corrections Division.

Cooper was accused of driving about 60 mph in a 35 mph zone on Louisiana near Gibson in March 2019 when he hit 39-year-old Angelica Baca, who was standing in the median while crossing the street. She was killed instantly.

Cooper, 22, opted to have his sentence decided by the same panel that found him guilty instead of having the presiding judge make the determination. He faced up to 11 1/2 years in confinement and a dishonorable discharge.

He told the panel before it began deliberating that he would like to stay in the Air Force, but said he would go back to his home state of Michigan if he is discharged. He added that he apologized privately to Baca’s family.

“I’m sorry for the circumstances that brought us here,” Cooper said. “I’m truly thankful to have amazing people behind me.”

Baca had children who were 12 and 6 at the time of her death.

Rhonda Henson, Baca’s mother, gave an emotional statement to the panel.

“Angelica was a beautiful soul,” Henson said, fighting back tears. “She had been through so much. Until God calls me home, I will miss you.”

Michael Cooper, Calvin Cooper’s father, said his son is a hard worker who always had the support of his family and friends.

“Calvin is the best son you could ask for,” Michael Cooper told the panel. “He always cared about other people more than himself.”

Prosecutor Capt. Andrew Trejo asked for a dishonorable discharge and for Cooper to spend time in confinement. The defense had painted Cooper as a victim of circumstance, Trejo said, but it was Baca who was the real victim.

“It was Airman Cooper and Airman Cooper alone who ignored everything in front of him,” Trejo said.

Capt. Robert Saulter, one of Cooper’s defense attorneys, asked the panel to have mercy on Cooper and to not hand him a dishonorable discharge, which could affect his employment opportunities and voting rights.

“This tragedy will follow Airman Cooper for the rest of his life,” Saulter said. “… We are hoping you will search your hearts to give Airman Cooper the chance to move forward.”

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