AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin and an Austin Police Department officer are being sued in relation to a September 2019 deadly crash that began as a police chase.
KXAN previously covered the incident, when an officer tried to pull over a truck. When the driver didn’t stop, the officer began a high-speed chase.
The driver of the truck died after running a red light and hitting another car at the intersection of East Parmer Lane and Dessau Road.
The lawsuit was filed by one of the occupants of the second car, Sunju Hong.
Hong’s attorneys say she was riding with a coworker. Hong was about seven months pregnant at the time, according to Attorney Aaron von Flatern.
“Unfortunately, she had to have the baby two months early, and so not only did she have surgery to repair her own internal injuries, but the placenta was damaged. The baby was removed,” von Flatern said. “The baby was put in NICU for over two months, and the family couldn’t hold this baby, you know, the whole time not sure if the baby was going to be okay.”
The baby survived, but during that time, von Flatern says the medical bills added up.
The boy’s parents are suing the city for $1,000,000, citing APD policy that clearly says officers can’t begin a chase over Class C traffic offenses.
“We made a decision as a community that we don’t want those kind of high speed chases that you see in Los Angeles that end in situations like this,” von Flatern said of the policy.
In March, Bozelli was suspended for 10 days for failing to properly stop the chase. An APD disciplinary memo said that the investigation into the crash found that Bozelli was going 82 mph with his lights and sirens on at the time of the collision, even after saying he’d terminate the pursuit 20 seconds earlier.
“We are very sympathetic to officers who have to make these tough judgement calls all day long,” von Flatern said. “Occasionally, you get this clear, black and white policy that just says, ‘Don’t do this,’ and really, it’s on APD to do the training. They have an option to get every single one of their officers to understand this policy and follow it. It takes cases like this to convince them of that, unfortunately.”
Von Flatern says his clients hope their lawsuit will prevent a similar chase prohibited by APD policy from injuring or killing anyone else.
“You have two options,” von Flatern said. “You can either deescalate– you’ve got the license plate number; you’ve got cameras on the patrol unit. ‘We’re going to find that person who ran a stop sign. We can give them a ticket later and bring them into court and ask them all the questions we want,’ or you can put on your cowboy hat and start chasing this guy. And the problem with that is the speed tends to go faster and faster, and things go predictably wrong.”
According to Officer Bozelli’s disciplinary memo, his patrol vehicle’s camera captured video of the crash.
KXAN asked APD whether the suspect Officer Bozelli was chasing had any warrants or if there was any other reason to initiate the chase, but the police department told KXAN to reach out to the city of Austin with any questions.
As of Tuesday afternoon, a spokesperson for the city of Austin told KXAN the city had not been served the lawsuit yet, but is ready to defend itself in response to the lawsuit.