WARREN -- A Trumbull County jury will determine if Bazetta Township and one of its police officers acted wrongly in a Warren teenager's 2001 fatal crash with an Ohio State Highway Patrol cruiser.
The 11th District Court of Appeals has reversed a Trumbull County Common Pleas Court finding and sent the matter back for further proceedings.
John D. Robertson, administrator of Joseph F. Robertson's estate, appealed the Aug. 22, 2003, ruling that granted Bazetta Township, the Bazetta Township Police Department and Officer Nick G. Papalas' motion for summary judgment, which took the parties off the case.
By reversing the trial court's decision, the appeals court said it is not passing judgment on Robertson's claim. "Rather, it is our position that the facts of this case raise several questions best suited for a jury's determination."
Evidence was presented that Bazetta Township failed to properly train Papalas or have a policy in place on how to secure intersections.
"It is our position that genuine issues of material fact remain as to whether the township itself was reckless, willful or wanton in failing to properly train Officer Papalas," the appeals court wrote. Concurring with Judge Donald R. Ford are Judges William M. O'Neill and Cynthia Wescott Rice.
On Jan. 11, 2001, Robertson, 18, of Warren, was killed in an automobile accident at North River and Elm roads in Howland Township. Robertson's vehicle collided with a state patrol car operated by Trooper Lee Sredniawa, who was in pursuit of a man whose vehicle was traveling more than 100 mph.
The following information came from the appeals court ruling and court records:
Papalas had been on duty at the Wal-Mart on Elm Road in Bazetta Township, which is north of the Elm Road-North River Road intersection. He overheard on his portable police radio that the OSHP was in pursuit northbound on state Route 46 in Howland.
Papalas heard that the pursuit was continuing westbound on North River Road and decided to proceed to the Elm Road-North River Road intersection. His assistance was not requested by Sredniawa, who assumed that Papalas was securing the intersection.
When Papalas arrived, he pulled into the left-hand turn lane on Elm Road next to the vehicle driven by Robertson. The traffic light was red. He turned on his siren and lights and tried unsuccessfully to make eye contact with Robertson or his passenger.
Papalas initially indicated that he went to the intersection to secure it, then acknowledged he went to join the chase. Papalas noted that the Bazetta department did not train him in securing intersections or police chases.
The fleeing auto drove through the intersection passing Papalas' and Robertson's cars. At that point, Papalas considered joining the chase and pulled slightly forward, but then he 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 at the intersection. He said if Papalas had not been at the intersection, he would have slowed down considerably and maybe even stopped, depending on the reaction of the traffic.
Bazetta Chief Charles Sayers explained it was against department policy to act without a request from the district that has jurisdiction -- Howland Township, the Trumbull County Sheriff's Department, or the OSHP. Sayers related that no one in his department had been trained in pursuits or securing intersections.