By Ed Runyan
Parents of three children seriously injured by a driver speeding down Grenada Avenue on Thanksgiving Day 2006 have sued Liberty Township and Liberty police officers who chased the driver prior to the crash.
The lawsuit was filed in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court on behalf of the children, Sidney Kimbrough, Naijah Hasley and Toni Davis. The children, age 6, 3, and 6, respectively at the time of the accident, are of Youngstown.
The lawsuit says Liberty police made a traffic stop on the driver, Dontae Hubbert, then 20, of Delaware Avenue, on state Route 193 in Liberty Township, then chased the vehicle south toward Youngstown.
Vindicator files say Liberty police stopped the car for having no front license-plate, then chased the car after it took off.
However, Anthony Slifka, Liberty’s police chief at the time, said the officer broke off the chase long before Hubbert’s vehicle struck the children, who were playing in a yard at the corner of Grenada and Cordova avenues on Youngstown’s North Side, just south of Northside Medical Center.
“The officer knew it was a residential area, so he terminated the chase. He stopped the chase about six or seven blocks before the accident, but [Hubbert] continued with the high speed,” Slifka said.
Hubbert fled the scene of the accident on foot and later turned himself in to police.
Hubbert later was sentenced in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to three counts of vehicular assault and single counts of failure to comply and improperly handling a firearm in a motor vehicle.
Kimbrough and Hasley remained in critical condition for several days after the accident. The lawsuit says all three children suffered unspecified serious and permanent injuries.
The lawsuit accuses Liberty police of acting in a negligent and/or reckless and wanton manner that showed a “disregard for human life and the rights and safety of the public.”
The suit says the township failed to establish and/or enforce policies regarding police chases.
The suit seeks at least $25,000 in damages.
Mark Finamore, Liberty’s law director, said the township will turn the case over to its liability-insurance carrier to provide legal defense on the case.
The families filed the suit previously, but withdrew it and were allowed to refile at a later date, Finamore said.
Pat Ungaro, Liberty Township administrator, said the township feels “pretty far removed from responsibility” for the crash that injured the children.