Senior Litigator Harold W. Potter obtained an early dismissal of a police pursuit that resulted in the death of a 13 year old girl and serious injuries to her mother and brother when a fleeing suspect slammed into their vehicle. The accident that formed the basis of the lawsuit occurred at approximately 6:06 p.m., on April 3, 2014, at the intersection of Trask Avenue and Olive Street, in the City of Westminster. Olive Street is a residential street with no lane markings (typical of a residential street) with a speed limit of 25 mph, pursuant to the vehicle code. Olive Street runs north and south and forms a “T” intersection with Trask Avenue. Trask Avenue is a 4 lane secondary roadway with two lanes of travel eastbound and two lanes westbound.  The roadway marking consists of broken white line delineators for each lane, in each direction, and double solid yellow lines delineating the center divider.  The posted speed limit on Trask is 35 mph, pursuant to a traffic engineering study finding said speed to be the 85th percentile.

The driver of the fleeing vehicle, at the time of the accident, had a suspended driver’s license, failed to appear on 5 prior occasions for traffic violations and had a felony warrant out for his arrest for narcotic trafficking and a weapons charge.  At approximately 5:55 p.m., a Westminster Police Department (WPD) Detective in an unmarked undercover vehicle noticed a raised black mid-nineties Suburban being driven by the suspect, a known fugitive.  The WPD Detective followed the suspect, requesting via dispatch that a marked black and white vehicle effectuate a traffic stop.  WPD Officers responded in a marked vehicle and attempted a traffic stop at the intersection of Olive Street, south of Plaza.  Rather than yielding to the traffic stop, the suspect accelerated his vehicle, striking a WPD patrol vehicle.  Due to the suspect vehicle being lifted, the front right rear tire of the suspect vehicle struck the WPD police cruiser on the left bumper and rode up onto the hood, causing extensive damage.  The suspect continued northbound on Olive at a high rate of speed.  At 6:05 p.m., WPD notified dispatch that officers were in a vehicle pursuit of the suspect.  At 6:06 p.m., WPD notified dispatch of the traffic collision.  During the approximate 90 second pursuit, the suspect ran two stop signs and a stop light.

At about the same time, a mother of two, was driving her 2007 Toyota Sienna down Eastbound Trask in the #1 lane, after picking up her 2 children from school.  She recalls traveling, just before impact, at approximately 30-35 mph.  The suspect, while attempting to turn right onto eastbound Trask, from northbound Olive, at an excessive speed and without stopping, broad-sided the Sienna.  The force of the impact was to the right passenger sliding door of the Sienna.  The collision instantly killed a 13 year old female child sitting in the back passenger seat.  The driver of the Sienna and her other child sitting in the front passenger seat sustained critical injuries. The severity of the impact caused the suspect vehicle to come into contact with another vehicle that was traveling westbound on Trask.  The driver of the westbound vehicle did not sustain significant injury.  The suspect fled the scene on foot and was apprehended some hours later, hiding in a nearby residential backyard.  Criminal charges were filed against the suspect.

Thirteen years ago, in a published opinion, Nguyen v. City of Westminster, (2002) 103 Cal.App.4th 1161, Potter successfully defended the WPD police pursuit policy as set forth in Vehicle Code §17004.7, in a similar incident.  Although the WPD Police Pursuit Policy has been amended through the years, Potter maintained in the instant action that the immunity was still applicable.  After several discussions with plaintiffs’ counsel, an agreement was reached to dismiss the entire action with prejudice for a waiver of costs, before the discovery phrase of the case ensued. WPD initiated and was very active in raising funds for the victim’s family to cover the costs of burial expenses for their beloved daughter and sister.