The family of a Santa Monica woman who was killed after a collision with a police car in Venice in October are seeking to hold police accountable for their actions prior to the fatal crash in a lawsuit filed against the Los Angeles Police Department and City of Los Angeles.
The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court May 13th by the parents of Devin Petelski alleges that the 25-year-old was killed as a result of negligent and reckless actions by the defendants. Also named as defendants in the complaint are LAPD officers James Eldridge and Ramon Vasquez.
Petelski was driving home from her job as a counselor at a substance abuse rehabilitation clinic shortly before midnight October 15th, when her BMW was hit by an LAPD car driven by Eldridge at Glyndon Avenue and Venice Boulevard. After stopping at a stop sign, Petelski’s vehicle was struck on the driver’s side as it was turning by the LAPD car that was traveling east on Venice Boulevard.
The lawsuit alleges that the officers were riding in the patrol car without required sirens or overhead lights and were traveling far in excess of the posted speed limit seconds before crashing into Petelski’s vehicle.
Petelski, who was seriously injured, died two days later and the two officers received minor injuries in the crash. Following her death, Petelski’s heart, kidneys and liver were donated through OneLegacy.
Geoffrey Wells, an attorney representing the woman’s family, said they chose to file the civil suit for damages to ensure that the police are held responsible for their actions regarding the collision and that such an incident does not happen to another family.
“Devin Petelski died a senseless death all because the LAPD was driving too fast in the middle of the night without using required lights or sirens,” Wells alleged. “Yet, if the LAPD had its way, they’d place all the blame on an innocent bystander in order to exonerate themselves from any wrongdoing.”
A month after the substance abuse counselor was killed, friends, family and community members held a candlelight vigil and marched from the scene of the crash to the LAPD Pacific station to express outrage for the circumstances of the accident. Participants recalled how Petelski was a compassionate person who was committed to helping others.
“Our earth angel Devin is now in heaven but her death is a harsh reality that I will never be able to totally accept,” said Shaunnah Godfrey, Petelski’s mother. “Devin was both my daughter and my friend, and always a source of wisdom and compassion far beyond her years.
“(We) have filed this lawsuit because 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.”
Wells said plaintiff attorneys have reviewed a computer download from the police cruiser that disputes statements by police in the accident report that the vehicle was traveling 40 to 45 miles per hour at the time of the collision. He alleged that a printout of the “black box” showed that less than five seconds before impact, the car was traveling approximately 78 miles per hour, nearly twice the posted speed limit of 40 miles per hour.
In addition, the lawsuit alleges that the patrol car failed to give proper notification by not using its overhead lights and sirens, which Wells said is a violation of LAPD procedures.
A spokesman for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, Frank Mateljan, said the office could not comment on the lawsuit at this time.
A month after the fatal crash, an assistant city attorney involved in the case rejected any accusations that the police car was speeding, saying that no witnesses had publicly come forward. The assistant city attorney said a preliminary examination of the accident scene determined that the estimated speed of the patrol car at the time was 40 to 45 miles per hour.
But Wells disputed the claim that there have been no witnesses.
“There are witnesses that saw this police vehicle speeding,” he said.
Wells said plaintiff attorneys and Petelski’s family hope the lawsuit will lead the LAPD to enforce its regulations on speeding more strictly and provide better training to officers regarding their conduct on the road.
“We hope the LAPD makes a conscious effort that they’re going to enforce the rules and regulations regarding speeding without lights and sirens,” Wells said.