Some of the money will go to train officers how to handle high-speed chases.
By ED RUNYAN
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- With the jury apparently deadlocked, the parties in the civil trial involving Bazetta Township and one of its police officers reached a settlement for a little less than $1 million.
The two-week trial was supposed to determine whether Nick G. Papalas acted in a willful, wanton or reckless manner in the death of 18-year-old Joseph F. Robertson of Warren in a high-speed crash in 2001.
The jury had deliberated in the Trumbull County Common Pleas courtroom of Judge John Stuard for much of the day Friday before indicating it was deadlocked. Lawyers for the two parties reached the settlement around 3 p.m.
John D. Robertson, administrator of Joseph F. Robertson's estate, said Bazetta Township settled for the limits of the township's liability insurance -- $1 million -- minus the $20,000 paid out previously to another victim in the accident. Robertson said his lawyers will get half.
The jury was asked to judge Papalas' actions from Jan. 11, 2001, when he assisted a state highway patrolman at the intersection of North River and Elm roads in Howland Township during a high-speed chase around 2 a.m.
At a press conference after the settlement, John D. Robertson said some of the money will go to a foundation to help train officers how to handle high-speed chases and secure intersections in such situations.
"We faced the possibility of a mistrial," Robertson said at the press conference. He said he didn't want to put his family and the community through another trial, so he accepted Bazetta Township's offer.
Robertson said he will decide how much to put into the foundation after the Court of Claims rules in January how much he will receive in damages from the actions of Ohio State Highway Patrolman Lee Sredniawa. That court ruled in September that Sredniawa was responsible in the death.
According to court records, Papalas had been on duty at the Warren Wal-Mart on Elm Road when he heard on his police radio that Sredniawa was involved in a high-speed pursuit heading toward Elm Road.
Papalas got into his Bazetta cruiser and drove to the intersection about a half-mile away and came up behind Joseph Robertson's vehicle. He pulled up alongside Robertson and activated his flashing lights. Whether he activated the siren is in dispute.
The fleeing auto drove through the intersection, passing Papalas' and Robertson's cars. Papalas considered joining the chase and pulled forward slightly but then stopped and waited for Sredniawa to pass through the intersection.
Meanwhile, the traffic light turned green, and Robertson proceeded into the intersection and into the path of Sredniawa's cruiser.
Sredniawa said it appeared as though Papalas had traffic contained -- saying that if Papalas had not been at the intersection, he would have slowed down considerably and maybe even stopped.
Attempts to reach Bazetta Township Trustee Michael Piros or the township's attorney, Thomas J. Wilson, Friday afternoon were unsuccessful.