GONZALES — A Belle Rose man alleges in a new lawsuit that an Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputy used his patrol car to dangerously tailgate and then hit the rear of a four-wheeler the man was riding during a high-speed chase through Donaldsonville last year.
It’s the latest in a series of lawsuits over high-speed chases in Ascension Parish.
Tranell M. Walker, 22, claims he lost control of the four-wheeler after being rear-ended, crashed into a house at 108 Anna St. and was seriously injured in the chase on March 30, 2014, over what he contends was a petty traffic offense.
Walker names the patrol deputy, Staff Sgt. Steven Thrash, as well as Sheriff Jeff Wiley, Wiley’s office and the jail in the lawsuit filed March 27 in 23rd Judicial District Court, and is seeking medical expenses and unspecified damages.
A central element in Walker’s claims of negligence against Thrash and the Sheriff’s Office is that sustained high-speed chases of cars and trucks, much less of four-wheelers, are inherently dangerous to the health and safety of the general public.
He alleges Thrash continued to chase Walker despite the fact he was being sought for a traffic offense and claims the Sheriff’s Office continued to authorize the chase.
“The Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office had knowledge and authorized this high-speed chase notwithstanding the knowledge that in recent years employees, agents and/or officers of local law enforcement had engaged in multiple, high-speed chases that resulted in the destruction of property and death of human life,” the lawsuit claims.
Some high-speed chases in the Baton Rouge area have ended in injuries and even death, sometimes as authorities pursued people suspected of minor crimes and in other cases fugitives and those wanted on more serious crimes such as armed robbery.
In late 2012, a high-speed chase by Gonzales police of two suspected shoplifters at Tanger Outlet Mall ended in injury and death and sparked lawsuits against the department, city and Tanger.
Four suits arising from a December 2012 chase that killed two alleged shoplifters on La. 30 in Iberville Parish and injured two others were settled and dismissed late last fall and in early February, attorneys said. Court records do not disclose settlement amounts, but plaintiff’s attorneys said their clients received monetary settlements.
Charlotte Guedry, Gonzales city and police spokeswoman, said the city paid no money but the settlements were paid by Risk Management Inc., a self-funded risk pool that works like insurance for towns and cities. Guedry said she could not immediately say how much Risk Management had paid because the amount had not yet been reported to the city.
After an internal probe, Police Chief Sherman Jackson cleared the officer involved in the crash, Brent Amy, in early 2013 of any wrongdoing. Guedry said Amy remains on the force.
Another suit against Gonzales police over an October 2012 chase that injured several people and killed one remains pending.
At the time of those and other crashes, Sheriff Wiley criticized the Police Department because pursuing officers did not back off when they were able.
But, last week, Wiley mounted a vigorous defense of Thrash and disputed the central contention of the four-wheeler chase lawsuit: that his officer and his department did not cease the chase.
Wiley said Thrash had tried to pull Walker over because he was popping wheelies in the road and posed a risk to the public.
Thrash did begin to pursue Walker, but Wiley claimed Walker began braking sharply in an apparent attempt to get Thrash to rear-end him.
Because of that, Wiley said, Thrash backed off. It was during Walker’s attempts to brake, Wiley added, that Walker lost control, veered off St. Patrick Street, went through a ditch and hit the house on Anna.
Wiley said his officer called for medical help and helped lift the crashed four-wheeler off Walker. It was on top of him after the crash.
“There was no contact. None,” Wiley said of his deputy’s patrol car and the four-wheeler that Walker was riding.
“And rather than take personal responsibility for it, he and his attorney sue the sheriff. It didn’t happen. Not getting any money. See you in court,” Wiley added.
An accident report on the crash written by another sheriff’s deputy does not delve into whether Walker was braking or was hit by Thrash.
The report says Thrash reported the four-wheeler turned onto Anna and lost control. Walker, who told the deputy he was riding from Assumption Parish to Donaldsonville on the four-wheeler, said he had no memory of the crash, the report says.
G. Dallon Bush II, Walker’s defense attorney and the plaintiff’s attorney in the suit, did not return messages for comment left at his office last week.
Walker, 166 Peterville Lane, Belle Rose, was cited with single counts of using an off-road vehicle on a public road, reckless operation and flight from an officer and with five counts of running stop signs.
He pleaded guilty Jan. 29 to reckless operation and flight from an officer, and was ordered in Ascension Parish Court to pay $200 in fines, plus court costs, or face a 10 days in jail.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.