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ARMSTRONG v. MUDD

February 26, 1987

WANDA PARKER ARMSTRONG, AS SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF PATRICIA WELLER, DECEASED, INCOMPETENT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WAYNE MUDD, OFFICER THOMAS HENDRICKSON, SERGEANT DAMON BARLEY, SANGAMON COUNTY, ILLINOIS, OFFICER JOHN J. GREENAN II, OFFICER HARLAND SANDERS, OFFICER SCOTT ALLIN, AND CITY OF SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mills, District Judge:

OPINION ORDER

High speed chase.

The fleeing criminal suspect hits decedent's car.

Her administrator sues the police.

The police all move for summary judgment.

Motions allowed.

Plaintiff, special administrator for the estate of Patricia Weller, brings this lawsuit pursuant to the Illinois Wrongful Death, Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 70, ¶ 1, and Survival Acts, Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 110 1/2, ¶ 27-6.*fn1 She seeks recovery in sixteen counts for the injury to and subsequent death of the deceased as a result of a 1982 vehicle collision with Defendant Wayne Mudd, a fleeing criminal suspect.*fn2 The complaint alleges negligence not only against Mudd, but also the pursuing patrolmen and their respective employers.*fn3

Jurisdiction is premised upon diversity of citizenship, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)*fn4, and Illinois substantive law governs. Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S.Ct. 817, 82 L.Ed. 1188 (1938).

Now before the Court are the Defendant police officers' motions for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The underlying events appear not in dispute. Rather, the query is whether such circumstances give rise to genuine issues of material fact regarding (1) the officers' alleged breach of the appropriate care standard, and (2) the proximate cause of the deceased's peril.

The Court finds that they do not. Summary judgment is proper.

Background

At approximately 6:00 a.m. on May 8, 1982, Springfield Police Officers John Greenan and Harland Sanders responded separately to a report of theft in progress at the OK Corral, a used car lot near the intersection of Taylor Avenue and Stevenson Drive in the southeast corner of the city. According to the complaint, both men observed the suspect, later identified as Wayne Mudd, enter a green Mercury Marquis and begin to flee. Siren and lights activated, Officer Greenan pursued Mudd north on Taylor, followed by Officer Sanders. Subsequently, the pursuit proceeded east on South Grand Avenue, southeast on Rochester Road, and south on Dirksen Parkway. Returning to Stevenson Drive, the accused then advanced west to Sixth Street, where he traveled north. (See Appendix.) During this period, both patrolmen were in constant communication with the city's dispatch officer. Greenan relayed the suspect's license number and requested assistance.

As a result, County Officer Thomas Hendrickson, accompanied in his squad car by Sergeant Damon Barley, received notice of the pursuit via the Illinois State Police Emergency Radio Network. Proceeding to the intersection of Sixth and Ash Streets, they joined in a roadblock with two city units.

Apparently spotting the barrier, Mudd turned west onto Cornell Avenue, one block south of Ash. Unable to make the corner, Officer Greenan progressed north to Ash where his attempted left turn resulted in the police car striking the curb. His vehicle inoperable, Greenan abandoned the chase.

In the meantime, Officer Sanders had advanced west onto Broad Place, one street prior to Cornell, hoping to cut off the fleeing suspect. He then heard over the radio that Mudd was northbound on Fourth Street. Having lost his quarry, Sanders shut off his siren and slowed down. He, too, abandoned the chase.

Officer Hendrickson and Sergeant Barley, however, continued the pursuit when Mudd averted the roadblock. Followed by city officer Scott Allin, the county car proceeded to Cornell, becoming the lead unit behind the suspect. According to Allin, the chase endured at a speed of approximately 45 m.p.h.*fn5 Both cars activated their emergency equipment — flashing lights and sirens.

Within a few seconds, Mudd had gained over a one block lead on Officer Hendrickson. Officer Allin reported that when the county car reached Laurel Street, on which the suspect had proceeded west, both patrolmen had lost sight of the Mercury. Allin then terminated his emergency apparatus and withdrew from the hunt.

The uncontradicted police report filed by Officer Hendrickson and supported by his deposition describes the final seconds of Mudd's nine mile adventure:

  R/O [Reporting Officer] turned onto Cornell just in
  time to see Mudd turn north on 4th St. R/O almost
  came to a dead stop at 5th St. due to parked vehicles
  on 5th St. blocking R/O's view. R/O then proceeded
  across 5th St. to 4th St. As R/O turned north on 4th,
  R/O saw Mudd's vehicle already across Ash St. and
  still proceeding north at a high rate of speed on 4th
  St. R/O approached Ash and again came to almost a
  complete stop as two (2) autos were approaching side
  by side on Ash from the west. These two (2) vehicles
  stopped and R/O crossed Ash still northbound on 4th.
  R/O then saw the Mudd vehicle turn west on Laurel.
  Immediately Sgt. Barley reported, on County channel
  one (1) that the suspect vehicle was westbound on
  Laurel. R/O then said, "we've lost him, Damen". When
  the Mudd vehicle turned west on Laurel, R/O had just
  crossed Ash St. At that time R/O believed that the
  only chance of keeping track of the vehicle was if
  another officer was on Laurel and could see the Mudd
  vehicle. R/O proceeded to Laurel on 4th and looked
  west but did not see the Mudd vehicle on Laurel. R/O
  ...

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