Redondo Beach police have determined that a Torrance police officer who ran a red light while chasing a motorcyclist was at fault in a collision that injured three people and destroyed three cars.
The victims recently filed claims against the city for $1 million, alleging that the officer was driving recklessly.
Police in Redondo Beach, where the accident took place March 17, found that Torrance Officer Timothy Pappas, who had his car's warning lights flashing and siren wailing, nevertheless had violated two state laws by speeding and failing to exercise sufficient care during pursuit.
Despite the finding of fault in the accident, Redondo Beach police did not charge the 24-year-old officer. Redondo Beach Police Agent Mark Sturgeon explained that as a matter of professional courtesy, his department had turned over its report to the Torrance Police Department without charging Pappas.
"I have never heard of a police officer being cited by another police agency in a situation like this," Sturgeon said.
Torrance is conducting an internal investigation that could result in disciplinary action against Pappas, according to Torrance Police Sgt. Wally Murker. If disciplinary action is taken and Pappas does not contest it, the action will remain secret under California law.
But Sturgeon said that Pappas' official California driving history will show--just as if he were not a policeman--that he was at fault in the collision.
Pappas has not returned phone calls seeking comment on the accident.
Claims against the city have been filed by Daniel Shanks and Lawrence C. Wheeler, both of Redondo Beach, and Clara E. Rose of Hawthorne.
The Redondo Beach police report gives this account of the collision:
The accident occurred on a Monday at 1:52 p.m. Shanks, who was driving north on South Prospect Avenue, was crossing at Knob Hill Avenue on a green light as Pappas approached the intersection. Shanks had his window rolled down on the driver's side but apparently did not hear Pappas' siren as the police car approached from the passenger side. A building blocked his vision of the approaching officer.
Pappas hit Shanks' beige 1983 Nissan pickup truck broadside.
The truck was spun around and struck a 1966 Chevrolet driven by Rose, who was driving south on Prospect and had pulled over when she saw and heard Pappas approaching. Wheeler was a passenger in Rose's car.
The chase had begun in a section of Redondo Beach near Torrance where Pappas spotted a motorcyclist with expired plates. The motorcyclist disobeyed Pappas' order to pull over and sped away. The motorcyclist has not been apprehended.
James T. Fox, an attorney for Shanks, said his client filed a claim for $600,000 against Torrance on April 24, "alleging that the city through its Police Department was the actual and legal cause of the accident and hence the injuries suffered by Mr. Shanks."
Fox said Shanks, 27, was hospitalized for almost a week and is still being treated for his injuries.
Rose, 70, is seeking $248,000 and Wheeler, who is 74, seeks $200,000, according to their attorney, Steven L. Berman.
"From what we get reading the police report and some witness reports, the officer wasn't paying proper attention to the people who might be at the intersection," Berman said.
"Clara took six stitches in the top of the skull. She had contusions and abrasions. She has possible eyesight damage, neck and back damage. We are looking into that. Mr. Wheeler, it looks like neck and back damage. He had some pretty bad bruises, some hematomas on his chest. He already had some heart surgery, so there is stress. . . . They are both lucky to be walking around."
Torrance risk-management technician Lynn Shall said the three claims will be reviewed and then turned over to a claims board and an insurance administrator.
"In this case, there will be a lot of investigation. I say it will be a couple of months," she said.
Berman said he expects that the claims will be denied routinely and that his clients will then file a lawsuit.
A 1983 study by the California Highway Patrol found that 11% of police pursuits resulted in accidents with injuries and that about 1% ended in fatal accidents. The study said that 15% of the injuries and 28% of the fatalities involved innocent bystanders.