The parents of a young woman killed in a collision with a Los Angeles Police Department cruiser in Venice have filed a civil suit against the city, the LAPD, and officers James Eldridge (the driver) and Ramon Vasquez, attorneys for the family announced Friday.
Devin Petelski, 25, was killed when her BMW was broadsided by an LAPD black-and-white on Venice Boulevard on the night Oct. 15. Questions about whether the patrol car was speeding (it was, slightly) and, more importantly, whether it was responding to an emergency call without its lights and sirens engaged, prompted a media battle between the city and Petelski's friends."In barreling down Venice Boulevard at night without using required lights or sirens," stated family attorney Bruce A. Broillet, "the LAPD's conduct was not only negligent, but careless and reckless as well."
In November, after allowing media access to investigative findings in the case, the City Attorney's office clammed up because this suit was expected -- the family originally had retained the services of star attorney Mark Geragos -- and each side would have to conserve its ammo.
Friend of Petelski Christopher Medak became somewhat of a spokesman for her case, and he alleged that the officer behind the wheel that night was engaging in a practice called "silent running" in which cops race to the scene of a crime without required lights and sirens on.
Police practically laughed at the assertion -- there is no such term in department lore -- but there in fact was such an LAPD practice, albeit under a different name: "Code 2 High." Calls that weren't dispatched as full-on, lights-and-sirens responses were sometimes dispatched Code 2 High, which meant that patrol cars would, in fact, race to the scene of a crime report -- as fast as possible -- without lights and sirens. The practice was officially banned by the department in 2004. But we've recently seen patrol cars gunning it to calls, and at least one department expert did not deny it happens sometimes.
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On that October night, the unit in question was going to a burglary-in-progress call as a backup to a unit that had already been dispatched Code 3 (lights and sirens). So technically, it was supposed to be obeying all traffic laws.
"The Plaintiffs allege that on the night of October 15, 2009, officers Eldridge and Vasquez were speeding and driving their LAPD car without required lights or sirens on Venice Boulevard moments before hitting Devin Petelski's car as she was entering the intersection at Glyndon Avenue," reads a statement from the family's attorneys at Greene Broillet & Wheeler of Santa Monica. " ... Per the complaint, the onboard computer in the police vehicle revealed that the LAPD's vehicle was traveling at a speed far in excess of the posted speed limit of 40 miles per hour."
Shaunnah Godfrey, Petelski's mother, stated the following: "Our earth angel Devin is now in heaven, but her death is a harsh reality that I will never be able to totally accept. ... We want the public to learn the truth about Devin's death and because we don't want to see any other family go through such a horrific tragedy."
The suit was filed in Superior Court in Santa Monica.