Denver detective disciplined for failure to conduct reasonable investigation of fatal bike crash


Gene McCullough
Gene McCullough

Gene McCullough’s family isn’t exactly sure how he died Sept. 5 while riding his bicycle on a Denver trail.

A year after his death, McCullough’s family is coming to terms with the fact that they may never know for certain, in part because Denver police failed to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident.

Police chalked the incident up to McCullough accidentally running his bike into a bridge and crashing in west Denver. But McCullough’s family said that doesn’t explain the extent of his injuries: a skull fracture, broken ribs, a fractured spine and a lacerated spleen.

He was a careful cyclist, they said, and would not have been moving fast enough to injure himself like that. Neither the bicycle nor the helmet had any significant damage.

The Denver Department of Public Safety found Steven Grein, the Traffic Investigations Unit detective assigned to the case, “failed to perform a reasonable investigation” into McCullough’s death, according to a letter outlining the disciplinary case. He lost two days of pay for his failure.

“I don’t think there’s ever closure for someone who loses someone in a traumatic incident… but there is some level of resolution in knowing what happened,” his son Colin McCullough said. “We’re never going to have that.”

Since McCullough’s death, his family has felt like they had to force the department to investigate the crash. They filed a complaint with the department’s internal affairs bureau about how the family was treated, including the allegation that Grein told McCullough’s widow that he had more important things to work on. That complaint prompted an internal affairs investigation.

“It’s like it didn’t matter to them,” said Rosann McCullough, Gene’s wife. “They just called it an accident and that was it.”

In a statement, Denver Police Department officials said they empathized with the McCullough family and sent their condolences, but didn’t think the detective’s failure altered the outcome of the investigation.

“Once the department was notified of the family’s concerns, DPD immediately began taking steps to rectify the situation and opened an investigation into the detective’s actions,” the department said in a statement. “It was determined that the detective’s investigation was not up to the high standards of a death investigation conducted by the Denver Police Department and he was disciplined. Additionally, a sergeant has been in contact with the family regarding the investigation and to return their loved one’s property. The department believes the outcome of the investigation was not impacted by the investigative process.”

McCullough, 79, rode his bike several times a week for significant distances. A retired medical researcher at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, he spent his time volunteering with groups like the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. He was a regular cyclist and a risk-averse outdoors person who previously volunteered with the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group — it’s ludicrous to Colin McCullough that his dad would suddenly crash at high speed.

“Is it possible? I guess anything is possible,” Colin McCullough said. “But it’s also possible that something else happened.”

A bystander who found Gene McCullough on the ground of the Lakewood Gulch Trail near West 10th Avenue and Perry Street on Sept. 5 called 911 to request an ambulance. The only possible witness to the crash was gone by the time police arrived and was never found or contacted by police.

The first officer on scene wrote a report about the crash but did not flag it as an accident with life-threatening injuries and did not take photos of the area or cordon it off. Doctors at Denver Health declared McCullough dead shortly after his arrival.

The day Grein was assigned to the case he learned there were no city-operated security cameras in the area and contacted the person who reported the crash, whom he talked with a few days later.

But Grein didn’t visit the scene of the crash until Oct. 14 — more than a month later. He didn’t take measurements of the scene until Dec. 3. The best evidence from the scene came from Colin McCullough, who drove from his home in Gunnison and visited the site within 24 hours of the crash and took photos.


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