Philippe Shepnick; Staff writer March 17, 2001 Saturday Copyright 2001 Ventura County Star Ventura County Star March 17, 2001 Saturday
(SIMI VALLEY, Calif.) -- A former area resident is suing the Police Department, claiming she was seriously injured as an innocent bystander in an unnecessary police chase that reached speeds of 110 mph.
The chase was initiated because a car was being driven without headlights at night.
Jury selection in a Ventura court could begin as early as Monday.
Shelley Padalecki, 18 at the time of the accident, was broadsided by the driver of a pickup truck, a 14-year-old boy, on the night of April 24, 1999. Police later discovered the truck was stolen.
Padalecki was in a coma for 15 days, said her father, Robert Padalecki. Every bone in her face was broken. She needed two major surgeries totaling 17 hours and has titanium plates in her forehead.
Shelley Padalecki's parents decided she cannot live alone, her father said. She lives with her parents, who moved to Texas last year.
Simi Valley residents need to know the police pursuit policy is seriously flawed and the department will not change it, Robert Padalecki said.
"The people of Simi Valley have no idea of the policy,"he said. "Whose daughter is going to be next? Whose son is going to be next?"
Simi Valley police Chief Randy Adams and Simi Valley City Attorney David Hirsch would not comment.
Steve Blades, the attorney representing the city of Simi Valley, said it was tragic that Padalecki was injured, but the officer made his decision after evaluating the situation.
"The officer conducts a balancing test and you chase people when the need to apprehend outweighs the risk,"he said.
At 11:21 p.m, Simi Valley police Officer Duy Bui said in a deposition that he was driving north on Tapo Street when he saw a truck leave Industrial Street. The truck's headlights were off. The truck drove south on Tapo Street, then turned west on Los Angeles Avenue.
Bui made a U-turn to follow the car and eventually issue a citation, he said. He turned on his lights and siren but the car sped up on Los Angeles Avenue. The speed limit there is 45 mph.
Bui increased his speed. Bui estimated that the chase at one point reached 110 mph on Los Angeles Avenue. At the intersection of Los Angeles and Madera, the truck ran a red light, hit two cars and a pole before slamming into Padalecki's car.
Mark Hiepler, Padalecki's attorney, said he will let the jury decide how Padalecki should be compensated. But Padalecki has had at least $500,000 in medical expenses and will incur at least $1 million more, the Oxnard-based attorney said.
Hiepler said the family is also concerned about the policy. In a deposition, Adams said that police officers can initiate a pursuit over a misdemeanor, Hiepler said.
"This is the fastest the officer had ever driven in his life and he wasn't disciplined,"Hiepler said.
Better judgment should have been used, he said.
Studies show that in 30 percent of all police pursuits, a collision occurs, he said.
Bui thought the driver was under the influence of alcohol, but he did not have time to relay that to the dispatcher, Blades said.
The department's pursuit policy is very similar to the policies of other law enforcement agencies in the county and nationwide.
If the policy is changed, criminals would come to Simi Valley, Blades said.
"If Ihad a chance to commit a crime in a city with a no-chase policy or a city that did chase, common sense tells me I'm going to a no-chase policy city."
The final decision of this case could have national implications, said Mike Doyle, who heads the Criminal Justice Department at California Lutheran University. He studies contemporary police issues, including police pursuit policies.
"This is a high-stakes case,"he said. "Based on what I understand, it's liable to go to the State Supreme Court. The trial court is not going to provide the final disposition for this. The stakes are just too high."