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City to pay $1.36 million to man injured in police chase

Posted on: October 3rd, 2012 by Romanucci & Blandin

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter October 2, 2012 2:02PM

Chicago taxpayers will spend $1.36 million to compensate a man who suffered severe leg injuries after his car was hit head-on by a vehicle being chased by Chicago Police officers who had been ordered to stop the pursuit, under a settlement advanced Tuesday by a City Council committee.

The accident that permanently incapacitated William Kurtz occurred at 12:45 a.m. on Oct. 3, 2009.

Kurtz was returning home from a wedding when his car was hit head on at 56th and Kedzie by a vehicle driven by Pablo Mendoza, who had veered across the center line while being chased by Chicago Police.

Two officers — identified by city lawyers as Rodrigo Corona and Vilma Argueta — had initiated a pursuit of Mendoza’s vehicle after Mendoza allegedly “sped away” after engaging in a “series of erratic driving acts” near the intersection of Kedzie and 40th Place.

“While engaged in the pursuit, the officers and Mendoza proceeded to go in and out of traffic, drive in the opposite lanes to avoid traffic and drive through two red lights. The officers’ car reached speeds up to 82 mph on wet pavement,” Deputy Corporation Counsel Leslie Darling told the City Council’s Finance Committee on Tuesday.

“While [the officers] testified they believed Mendoza was intoxicated, they failed to mention this to their supervisor during the pursuit. The supervising sergeant issued a stop pursuit order immediately after hearing the officers’ stated reasons for pursuing, but [the officers] testified they never heard that order. The officers were playing the vehicle’s commercial radio during the pursuit and [one of the officers] testified he was not tuned in to the dispatch radio communications.”

A pursuit policy that followed the 1999 deaths of unarmed civilians LaTanya Haggerty and Robert Russ on the same summer weekend requires police officers to get supervisory approval before initiating a chase and to break it off once the pursued vehicle starts disobeying traffic control signals.

The Haggerty and Russ cases resulted in settlements of $18 million and $9.6 million respectively.

“In this case, the supervising sergeant testified that he terminated the pursuit because it didn’t meet the balancing test in light of the slick pavement, the commercial nature of South Kedzie and because he was told the pursuit was for a traffic violation,” Darling said.

Hospital tests showed that Mendoza had a blood alcohol level of .13, well over the legal limit of .08. He was subsequently charged with 11 counts, including aggravated DUI and driving without a valid driver’s license and insurance.

According to Darling, Mendoza disappeared after being released on bond. A bench warrant remains outstanding seeking his return to face charges stemming from the accident.

Kurtz suffered a crushing fracture of his right foot with a large open wound and sustained multiple fractures of his lower left leg and foot.

After a series of complicated surgeries — including the removal of nearly two-thirds of the bone on the top of his right foot — Kurtz has an abnormal gait, suffers chronic pain and stiffness and walks with a cane.

He can no longer work as a maintenance supervisor for a towing company, a job that required Kurtz to be on his feet.

“An orthopedic surgeon has testified that he can’t walk more than 1.5 blocks without severe pain and swelling in his right foot and it may be necessary to amputate if the pain worsens,” Darling said.

As for the two officers, Darling said they were reprimanded and ordered to undergo retraining. An additional internal review also produced a “pending recommendation for discipline, including suspensions now in command channels,” she said, refusing to reveal specifics.

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