Lawsuit seeks millions
- Holly M. Gill
- Madras Pioneer - News
Following 2010 fatal crash
Representatives of three Warm Springs young people killed and one child injured in a car crash in 2010 are suing the police officers who attempted to stop them after a burglary.
The conservator of Ladamere Kalama, who was 6 at the time of the crash, and the representatives of Grace Kalama, who was 5 at the time of her death, Valerie Suppah, who was 25, and Sean Star, who was 22, have filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Portland seeking millions from Jefferson County, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and a deputy and an officer.
In laying out the details of the incident, Attorney William Ghiorso, of Salem, states that on Sept. 29, 2010, at about 9:50 p.m., "the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office received a report of a burglary of certain stereo equipment and shots fired at a stereo business located in the city of Madras," with no injuries reported.
Deputy Jason Evan, of the JCSO, who was on the lookout for "a blue or gray Ford Focus," spotted a 2005 gray Toyota Corolla and made a traffic stop at about 10:10 p.m.
Evan left his patrol car and observed three adult occupants in the vehicle, including the driver, April Scott-Kalama, 26, and "noticed a stereo speaker in the rear passenger's lap," and determined that the vehicle was the suspect vehicle.
The driver drove off, and the report alleges that "Defendant Evans immediately engaged and sustained his patrol car in a high-speed pursuit of the 2005, four-door, gray Toyota Corolla, driven by April Scott."
The complaint further states that Evan "reached speeds of not less than 80 miles per hour."
Around that same time, Warm Springs officer Tod Kerr, who had been monitoring Evan's activities, left the Warm Springs Reservation and traveled southbound on U.S. Highway 26 to assist Evan.
At about 10:14 p.m., the vehicle driven by Scott-Kalama collided with the tribal police car driven by Kerr.
"Defendant Kerr T-boned plaintiffs' car killing four of the five occupants of the Toyota Corolla, including Grace Kalama, who was in a child-restraint device in the back seat passenger compartment of the vehicle, Valerie Suppah, and Sean Starr, and severely injuring Ladamere Kalama, who was in a child-restraint device in the back seat of the car," the complaint states.
The complaint alleges that Evan, Kerr, Jefferson County and Warm Springs "negligently, recklessly and with willful and wanton disregard for the rights and safety of the plaintiffs and other members of the public, operated the defendant county's and Warm Springs police vehicles at an excessive speed and failed to conform to safety practices ..."
Among the ways in which it alleges that Evan and Kerr failed to conform were: "negligently inspecting and determining the correct number and age of occupants of the Toyota Corolla, or deliberately ignoring the presence of young children"; failing to use due care in initiating the high-speed pursuit; and "failing to use due care in failing to refrain from initiating and then continuing the high-speed pursuit, where defendants Evan and Kerr knew or with exercise of reasonable care should have known that there were innocent passengers including minor children in the suspect car."
The complaint alleges that the county and Warm Springs did not conform to safety practices by failing: "to establish and maintain a police force for the protection of the public health, safety and welfare"; to conform to Oregon statutes which "prescribe certain minimum training for police officers"; and "to adequately train, instruct and supervise its law enforcement officers" in the "proper and safe methods of inspecting occupants of automobiles during traffic stops and initiating and conducting high-speed pursuits, specifically with regard to automobiles containing minor children as passengers."
The complaint also states that the plaintiffs were deprived of their rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth and 14th Amendments.
Reasons given for those complaints include the allegations that the defendants: used an unusual degree of force; violated plaintiffs' rights to be free of unreasonable seizure; punished without benefit of trial by jury; denied plaintiffs' right to be free from intrusion of their bodily integrity and personal security; restrained them without a warrant; and denied them equal protection of the law.
The complaint seeks damages of over $7.1 million for Ladamere Kalama, and just over $3 million each for the estate and heirs of Grace Kalama, Sean Starr, and Valerie Suppah. Additionally, the complaint asks for another $20 million for all the defendants: $5 million economic damages, $5 million noneconomic, and $10 million punitive.
The complaint was filed by Ghiorso on Sept. 28, 2012. The county is represented by Robert Franz, of Springfield. Neither returned calls for comment, and County Counsel Alexa Gassner said that a trial date has not been set.