A Prince George’s County jury recently awarded $4 million to the family of a University of Maryland student who was killed in a 2007 automobile wreck involving an off-duty county police officer in Bowie, MD. The civil case ended with a decision showing that the officer, Cpl. Mario Chavez, was negligent in the fatal accident that killed 20-year-old Brian Gray on December 10, 2007.
As Maryland car accident lawyers, we have great respect for law enforcement professionals and the work they do, however a police officer cannot afford a lapse in judgment, especially when it comes to causing the death of an innocent person. This jury’s award is a message to police agencies throughout Maryland that off-duty officers should conform to the same rules of the road that other motorists are expected to observe. This crash is an example of that lack of consideration.
According to news reports, the victim was on his way to take an exam in College Park when his Chevrolet Beretta was hit broadside at nearly 50mph by a police cruiser driven by Chavez, who was off duty and heading home at the time. The posted speed limit in that area is reportedly 25mph.
Gray had stopped at a stop sign and was beginning to make a left turn when Chavez slammed into the driver’s side of his car, according to trial testimony. Chavez had testified that his view of Gray’s car was obstructed by shrubs and that he saw only a moment before the collision.
In their closing argument, the defense claimed Gray was partly to blame for the accident because he didn’t yield to Chavez’s cruiser. Gray’s attorneys argued that if Chavez had been driving at the speed limit, or even 10 to 15 mph above the limit, Gray would have been able to complete his turn unscathed. The jury apparently agreed.
Tragically, Gray’s mother, driving in a separate vehicle several car lengths behind her son, saw the entire incident. Mary Gray was driving a family friend to DeMatha Catholic High School at the time the collision occurred. The force of the impact virtually destroyed Gray’s Chevy and the young man was pronounced dead at a hospital around noon, about five hours after the fatal crash.
According to court testimony, AT&T cellphone logs indicated that Chavez either sent or received a text message in the moments before the collision, however the officer testified under oath that he did not use his cellphone in the minutes leading up to the crash.
Chavez reportedly was only issued a speeding ticket after State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said there was not enough evidence to charge Chavez with vehicular manslaughter, which in Maryland requires proving that a driver acted with “gross negligence.” Chavez is currently assigned to an administrative job.
Civil Jury Finds Officer Negligent in Fatal Crash, WashingtonPost.com, September 18
PRINCE GEORGE’S CIVIL CRASH TRIAL; Corporal Either Sent or Got Text, Witness Says, WashingtonPost.com, September 19, 2009