A city jury returned a $3.1 million verdict Thursday against the village of Uplands Park for a police chase that ended in a deadly crash.
About half of the award is to compensate for the death of Lashanna Snipes, 34, who was driving her sister, two children and grandnephew to a relatives’ house to hang Christmas lights on Dec. 3, 2009, when a fleeing suspect struck her car at Goodfellow Boulevard and Martin Luther King Drive.
The rest of the judgment is for injuries others in the car received.
Snipes’ sister, Ayanna Jones, who suffered multiple pelvis fractures, was awarded $670,000. Jones’ grandson, then 5, was awarded $400,000 in damages for a broken thigh bone.
Snipes’ son, who was 7 and suffered a broken collarbone and two broken legs, was awarded $275,000. His sister, then 12, who crawled from the wreckage to watch rescue crews try to free her mother’s lifeless body, received $250,000. She received a concussion in the crash.
Each award came in near or above what the plaintiffs were seeking. But because of a state law that caps what municipalities are liable for, attorneys for Uplands Park are expected to file a motion to reduce the judgment to $378,000 for each claim.
Still, said attorney Aaron Haber, who represented Jones and her grandson: “If nothing else, it sends a message.”
Haber said the case hinged on when and whether the officers called off the pursuit as they claimed.
Volunteer police officer Lamont Aikens and Sgt. Janet Riley began pursuing their 16-year-old suspect, Derion Henderson, when he clocked at 46 mph in a 30 zone in Uplands Park. They acknowledged picking up speed down Goodfellow Boulevard, but told authorities investigating the crash that they ended the pursuit upon crossing St. Louis Avenue, more than a dozen blocks before the crash scene.
But the attorneys for Snipes and her family played dispatch tapes with the sounds of speeding cars and sirens after that. They also played a video deposition of a witness, Ronesha Jones, who said the chase went by her at nearly 80 mph several blocks later. Ronesha Jones, who is not related to the victims, called St. Louis police saying her car was hit by both vehicles.
Aikens and Riley testified this week that they were forced to resume the chase after Henderson hit Ronesha Jones’ car. Todd Muchnick, another attorney for the family, said that claim was only made after the officers learned of Jones as a witness.
And this may have had an impact on the jury.
Aikens, who was driving the police car, was a volunteer without police certification. According to testimony, the department hired him about two months before the chase, knowing he had a history of 18 arrests — including two felonies.