Officer charged with murder in woman's shooting

Associated Press

Chandler Police Officer Dan Lovelace allegedly shot Dawn Rae Nelson through an open driver's window of her car as she tried to drive away.

Patricia Biggs and Jonathan Sidener

The Arizona Republic

Nov. 7, 2002 11:30 AM

Chandler Police Officer Dan Lovelace was arrested Thursday morning and charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Dawn Rae Nelson, 35, on Oct. 11. Bond was set at $50,000.

Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley also announced that Lovelace is charged with reckless endangerment because Nelson's 13-month-old son was in the back seat at the time of the shooting. The child was unharmed.

Lovelace shot Nelson after she was stopped outside a Walgreens Drug Store at Dobson and Warner roads on suspicion of passing a forged prescription. Romley said Thursday that forensic evidence indicated that Nelson was shot slightly from the rear and that Lovelace was not in danger when he fired. "Officer Lovelace was at the back of the car moving toward the driver's door," Romley said.

Romley said that in a radio transmission after the shooting, Lovelace said that a person had tried to run him over and he had to shoot, but that the evidence contradicted that claim.

Although initially police said Lovelace shot the Ahwatukee Foothills mother of three after she rammed his motorcycle with her Camaro, they backed off that statement.

Her husband, John C. Nelson, said police told him the next day that Dawn was shot through the open driver's window of her car she tried to drive away. He said he was told that the car struck the motorcycle after she was shot.

Citizens have reacted strongly to the shooting. Chandler officials received more than 70 e-mails in the days following the shooting, many of them voicing concern that an unbiased investigation be conducted.

Romley hired Lucien Haag, a nationally recognized police-scene reconstructionist, to examine the forensic evidence.

Haag, a former 17-year Phoenix police crime lab technical director, has authored dozens of papers on ballistics and investigated a number of cases nationwide.

Lovelace was named rookie of the year by the department in 1998 and was considered a model example for young officers. Commendations in his file include praise for coordinating a physical fitness program, riding in a charity bicycle tour and assisting in the funeral of slain Chandler Officer Jim Snedigar.

But he also has a "letter of admonishment" for the March 13, 2000, pursuit of a stolen pickup truck that ended in the death of college student Bradley Downing III.

In the 2000 pursuit, Lovelace was accused of three counts of conduct unbecoming an officer, but cleared of failing to notify dispatchers and superiors. The only violation upheld was failing to use lights and sirens.

But Downing's family held Lovelace partially liable for his death. His mother settled for $1.4 million and his father's suit is pending trial.

Reach the reporter at or at (602) 444-7961.

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