Survivor’s family notifies Rockport of intent to sue over fatal high-speed pursuit

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ROCKPORT, Maine — The family of the sole survivor of a crash that claimed two teenagers’ lives following a high-speed police pursuit last December has notified the town of its intent to sue.

The notice of intent to sue was filed this week with the town by Jeri Vitale of Warren on behalf of her 17-year-old daughter Emily Vitale. The younger Vitale was a passenger in the 2001 Subaru Outback driven by 17-year-old Caleb Byras of Litchfield, who led Rockport police Officer Craig Cooley on a high-speed pursuit from Rockport to Wotton’s Mill Road in Union, where the car crashed and split into two large pieces.

Byras and passenger Kara Brewer, 16, of Rockland, died instantly in the Dec. 5 crash. Vitale suffered injuries to an ankle, police said.

Rockport Town Manager Rick Bates confirmed Wednesday that the notice of claim had been filed, but a copy and details were not immediately available.

Vitale is represented by attorney Peter Clifford of Kennebunk, who did not immediately respond to a telephone message left Wednesday afternoon.

Attorney Benjamin Gideon, who represents Brewer’s mother, has previously said he too plans to file a notice of intent to sue, saying that Cooley was negligent by undertaking a high-speed pursuit in violation of the town’s policy and accepted police practices. State law requires a notice be filed within six month of an incident for someone to sue the state, county or municipal government.

Cooley was taken off patrol duty last month and assigned to full-time administrative duties pending the results of an independent review of the police department’s policy by a consulting firm the town hired last month.

In the past 20 years, Cooley has split his time between being the administrative assistant to the chief and a patrol officer with the Rockport Police Department.

Cooley pursued the car driven by Byras after the Litchfield teen failed to stop when the officer tried to pull him over for speeding on Route 17 in Rockport. The chase lasted about four minutes before the crash occurred.

Cooley had issued a ticket to Byras about an hour earlier for driving 74 mph in a 55-mph zone on the same road.

Gideon said Cooley’s pursuit of Byras violated Rockport’s policy on police pursuits, which was adopted in September 2013 and is the same as the model recommended for all police departments in the state by the board of trustees of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.

The policy states that only full-time law enforcement officers may participate in a high-speed pursuit. Cooley is not certified as a full-time officer but as a part-time officer, according to John Rogers, director of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.

The police policy also states that a law enforcement officer “shall not engage in high-speed pursuit if the operator is known” to the officer unless there is “a serious indication of further violent actions if not immediately apprehended.”

Further, the policy states that an officer “shall not pursue vehicles for Class D and E crimes or traffic violations, unless the conditions surrounding the pursuit are conducive to safe operation, management and due regard for the safety of the officer, the public, and the person or persons in the vehicle being pursued.”

Rockport Police Chief Mark Kelley defended Cooley, however, and said Cooley acted appropriately when he pursued the speeding teen driver.

Reposted from by Stephen Betts

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