It’s been more than a month since Santa Monica resident Devin Petelski was killed after a collision with a police car in Venice, but her friends and family are continuing to draw attention to the circumstances in which she lost her life.
Petelski, 25, 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 a Los Angeles Police Department car 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, police said.
Petelski, who was seriously injured, died two days later and two police officers received minor injuries in the crash. The circumstances of the collision remain under investigation.
Friends and family members of Petelski created a page in memory of her on the social networking site Facebook and they recently held a candlelight ceremony to remember the woman who they say was committed to helping others.
“She was a woman full of life who lived to the fullest. She loved her friends, the beach and yoga,” said Christopher Medak, a friend of Petelski and her family. “She was dedicated to sobriety; it’s where she was the night she was killed.”
Joseph Abrahams, who was dating Petelski, remembered her as a very compassionate person.
“Devin was always coming from a place of wanting to help another person. She was about as sweet as a person can be,” Abrahams said. “We’re trying to follow the example that Devin set throughout her life, to show love and compassion.”
The gatherers at the November 19th candlelight ceremony near where the crash occurred said that the event was not just to pay respects to the victim but to call attention to the actions of the police car during the incident and to seek answers. Robert Pulone, an assistant city attorney involved in the case, said that the LAPD car was responding to a call of a burglary in progress but did not have its overhead lights or sirens activated at the time of the crash.
Medak and others at the ceremony say that witnesses have come forward alleging that the patrol car also accelerated beyond the speed limit of 40 miles per hour before the crash and did not have its headlights turned on. Medak alleged that the act of police cars driving without sirens, flashing lights and headlights is known as “silent running” and said people have been killed in other areas during such situations.
“We’re not looking for a rush to justice. What this night is about is to bring awareness to ‘silent running,’” Medak said at the event.
“It’s not about police bashing, it’s about making them aware that they have to be within the conduct of safety on the road. It’s a complete tragedy that (Petelski) was killed and it didn’t need to happen.”
Expressing outrage for the circumstances of the fatal crash, participants at the November 19th event marched from Venice and Lincoln boulevards, carrying signs saying “end silent running” and wearing T-shirts with Petelski’s picture, to the LAPD Pacific station.
“We think this event was avoidable and we believe that both Devin and everyone who loves her would want to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Abrams said.
Pulone disputed the term “silent running,” saying that there is no such procedure enacted by Los Angeles police. He additionally rejected any accusations that the police car was speeding and driving without its headlights on, noting that no witnesses have publicly come forward.
“I have not seen any personal eyewitness accounts with anything strongly detrimental to the police department,” Pulone said.
The official police report is expected to be released soon, he said. A preliminary examination of the accident scene by the LAPD West Traffic division and the Special Collision Investigation Division (SKID) has determined that the estimated speed of the patrol car at the time of impact was between 40 and 45 miles per hour and the headlights were on, Pulone said. The posted speed limit on Venice is 40 mph.
The assistant city attorney said the examination included information from the patrol car’s “black box” and photographs of the scene that showed that the police car’s tail lights were on following the crash.
Although the accident is still under investigation, the city is confident that the evidence will show that the police department is not at fault, Pulone said.
“With the investigation of the vehicles for speed, the city is basically comfortable in their position that the officers did absolutely nothing wrong,” he said.
While they wait for the results of the investigation, Petelski’s friends and family say they want to highlight the conduct of police on the road. LAPD Pacific Captain Joe Hiltner and City Councilman Bill Rosendahl met with the marchers outside the station to address their concerns on the issue.
Rosendahl said he joined with the participants for a portion of the walk, comforting Petelski’s mother, and stressed that he intends for the truth to come out regarding what happened.
“I said clearly, we’re going to get the truth and get to the bottom of this. If anyone violated any laws we’re going to be very clear about that,” Rosendahl said. “We’re not going to keep it from any kind of public awareness. I’m not going to let go of this until the truth comes out.”
Pulone also affirmed that there will not be a “cover-up” and the facts of the case will come out.
“This is a serious accident that involves the city’s police officers,” he said. “Everyone wants a thorough, honest investigation.”