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Hearing Scheduled in Wrongful Death Suit Against Colorado State Patrol

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GavelThe Colorado State Patrol vehicle-pursuit policies are undergoing judicial scrutiny this coming April, when a Mesa County judge will rule on whether a wrongful death lawsuit against the CSP can move forward.

Chief Judge David Bottger has scheduled a four-day hearing starting April 11 in a lawsuit filed by Shea and Sean Lehnen of Collbran. The couple claim a CSP trooper’s hot pursuit was partly to blame for the Nov. 6, 2007, car accident on Colorado Highway 65.

The suit alleges “proximate cause,” according to a Associated Press piece on the San Francisco Examiner:

Mesa County Judge David Bottger will determine after a four-day hearing in April whether the lawsuit against the State Patrol merits going forward. The lawsuit filed by Shea and Sean Lehnen argues that the trooper’s pursuit of a speeding suspect was the ‘proximate cause’ of the accident in 2007 that killed their unborn baby.

Shea Lehnen’s minivan was struck head-on by the 26-year-old Logan Lage, who was driving a Jeep. Lage was fleeing a Colorado state trooper at the time, and was also driving with a suspended license. Lage pled guilty to child abuse resulting in death, second-degree assault and misdemeanor child abuse, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Now Lehnen’s legal team is attempting to hold the Colorado State Patrol responsible for their perceived contribution to the wrongful death of Lehnen’s unborn child. Paul Shockley, an editor at the The Daily Sentinel, provides details:

The lawsuit centers on a dispute over what happened during the pursuit of Lage by Trooper Jeffrey Vrbas. Vrbas, who was in an unmarked patrol car, clocked Lage’s Jeep speeding westbound on Colorado Highway 330 at 68 mph in a stretch of road posted for 50 mph. Lage ignored the Trooper’s lights and siren.

According to the Lehnen family’s lawsuit, Vrbas told dispatchers some 16 minutes into the pursuit that speeds had reached 100 mph along the winding, mountainous two-lane highway.

The lawsuit alleges Vrbas received permission to attempt a ‘tactical vehicle intervention,’ a maneuver aimed at forcing the Jeep off the roadway. Several attempts were unsuccessful, and the Jeep at one point attempted to swerve at the Trooper’s vehicle, the lawsuit alleges.

Lage was trying to pass a pickup with a trailer in tow when his Jeep collided head-on with Lehnen’s minivan.

The lawsuit alleges the pursuit posed unreasonable risks and was the ‘proximate cause’ of the death of Lehnen’s unborn daughter, Lileigh Lehnen.

Attorneys for the Lehnens assert that the chase was unneeded since a roadblock could easily have been erected by authorities at the intersection of Highway 65 and Interstate 70. This claim has been rejected by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. The AG office argued that the trooper was more than 100 feet behind Lage’s vehicle at the time of the motor vehicle accident, and also that he has maintained safe speed for the conditions. It was also noted that at no time did officer Vrbas collide directly with another vehicle.

Image by walknboston, used under its Creative Commons license.


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