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Suwanski v. Village of Lombard

July 30, 2003


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 99-L-1075 Honorable Kenneth Moy, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kapala


Plaintiff, Ronald Suwanski, individually and as the special administrator of the estate of Beverly L. Suwanski, appeals from an order of the circuit court of Du Page County granting summary judgment to defendants, the Village of Lombard and Bruce Bradford on the first two counts of plaintiff's third amended complaint based on the willful and wanton conduct of Bradford. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand.


In this case, two people lost their lives in a high-speed vehicular police pursuit. While we must resolve the issues presented by the circumstances of this appeal, the legal and social conundrum created by such police pursuits will unfortunately persist beyond our disposition.

The following facts are taken from the various depositions in this case. On October 10, 1999, at about 9:35 p.m., defendant, Officer Bruce Bradford of the Lombard police department, received a radio report of an automobile driving with an unsecured load on Finley Road in Lombard. Officer Bradford was proceeding southbound in his marked patrol car when he observed a vehicle driving northbound on Finley Road. The vehicle appeared to be driving below the speed limit and had debris on both its hood and roof. The material on the hood partially obstructed the windshield. According to Officer Bradford, the vehicle had so much junk piled on it that it looked "ridiculous." The junk was "teetering and tottering." Officer Bradford believed the vehicle was unsafe to be driven in that condition.

Officer Bradford decided to stop the vehicle because it had an unsecured load and an obstructed windshield. To that end, he activated his emergency lights and pulled behind the vehicle. After Officer Bradford activated his lights, the vehicle slowed down as it approached a stop sign at Maple Avenue. Instead of stopping, however, the vehicle drove through the stop sign. At that point, the vehicle also began to weave within its lane.

The vehicle then turned west onto Crescent Avenue into the Village of Glen Ellyn. At that point, the vehicle was traveling 50 miles per hour in a 35-mile-per-hour speed zone. Debris fell from the vehicle as it wove and crossed the center lane. Officer Bradford radioed the dispatcher and reported that the vehicle was "weaving and leaving stuff all over the road." While still on Crescent Avenue, the dispatcher advised Officer Bradford that the vehicle was reported stolen.

It was while on Crescent Avenue that Officer Bradford began to suspect that the driver of the vehicle was driving while under the influence of alcohol. According to Officer Bradford, the circumstances that led him to that suspicion were the debris on the vehicle, its driving below the speed limit, its driving over the speed limit, and its crossing a double centerline.

The vehicle then turned north onto Forest Avenue and drove through downtown Glen Ellyn. The vehicle turned west onto Pennsylvania Avenue then north onto Western Avenue. The vehicle was traveling at 60 miles per hour on Western Avenue. Up to that point, the vehicle had not stopped at any stop signs along its route.

Officer Bradford followed the vehicle east onto Elm Street. A witness testified that there was no other traffic on Elm Street, and he estimated the speed of the two vehicles to be about 40 to 45 miles per hour. According to the witness, Officer Bradford's vehicle was within two to three car lengths of the pursued vehicle.

According to this witness, the light at Elm Street and Main Street was red and both vehicles went through it. In doing so, they caused two other vehicles to "panic stop" to avoid a collision. Officer Bradford testified he did not remember what color the light was or seeing the two vehicles attempt to avoid a collision.

As Officer Bradford's vehicle and the other vehicle turned north onto Main Street from Elm, Officer Bradford activated his siren. While Officer Bradford chased the vehicle on Main Street, the dispatcher confirmed that the other vehicle was stolen.

Officer Bradford testified that while on Main Street the pursuit reached a speed of 90 miles per hour. Officer Maria Hernandez of the Glen Ellyn police department joined in the pursuit northbound on Main Street. According to Officer Bradford, as the vehicles approached the intersection with North Avenue, the pursued vehicle slowed down as though the driver might exit the car. The transcript of Officer Bradford's radio transmission at that point states that the driver "is going to bail." Instead, the vehicle proceeded through the intersection, still northbound on Main Street, then performed a U-turn, proceeded back southbound on Main Street, then turned west onto North Avenue.

Another witness, Fatima Ali, was driving southbound on Main Street approaching the intersection with North Avenue. As she drove into the left turn lane to turn left onto North Avenue, the light for southbound Main Street was red. At that point, she observed the pursuit proceeding north on Main Street approaching North Avenue. She described the vehicles as traveling at a speed likely over the 40-mile-per-hour limit. There were two squad cars chasing another vehicle and they were "going back and forth trying to keep hold of [the vehicle] as [it] was trying to get away from them." According to Ms. Ali, the squad cars were a "couple of feet" behind the other vehicle.

Ms. Ali thought the chase would continue north but instead the car being chased abruptly turned in front of her, coming within three feet of the front of her vehicle. She jerked her car to the left to avoid a collision, crossed the oncoming lanes of traffic, and crashed into a road construction sign on the other side of the street. Officer Bradford testified that he did not recall the near collision with Ali's vehicle.

The chase then continued westbound on North Avenue. North Avenue at that point is a six-lane roadway with a speed limit of 45 miles per hour. The traffic on North Avenue was very sparse that evening according to Officer Bradford. While on North Avenue, Officer Hernandez terminated the pursuit because she was ordered to do so by her supervisor.

Another witness, August Marazzo, was stopped at the intersection of Bloomingdale Road and North Avenue when he observed the pursuit go by on North Avenue. He estimated the speed of Officer Bradford's vehicle and the other vehicle to be 70 to 80 miles per hour. According to Officer Bradford, his vehicle periodically reached the speed of 100 miles per hour on North Avenue. He estimated the closest he got to the pursued vehicle on North Avenue was perhaps a block.

Timothy Troutman also witnessed the chase on North Avenue. Troutman was driving with his wife westbound in the center lane of North Avenue. The two vehicles passed his vehicle, moving from the left lane to the right lane. He estimated the police vehicle was about 15 to 20 feet behind the other vehicle. As the two vehicles approached the intersection with President Street, Troutman observed the light for westbound North Avenue was red, and he told his wife "somebody is going to get hit." A few seconds later, he saw a red Chevrolet Beretta pull into the intersection on President Street and get hit by the chased vehicle. The police car had to take evasive maneuvers to avoid striking either of the two cars. ...

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