Friday, January 6, 2012

$8 million claim filed in trooper crash case

Posted By on Fri, Jan 6, 2012 at 5:00 PM

FATAL WRECK: In Manila.
  • kait8.com
  • FATAL WRECK: In Manila.
The estate of Vickie Freemyer, the Blytheville teacher killed when her car was struck by a speeding State Police cruiser driven by former Trooper Andrew Rhew, has filed an $8 million claim in the death with the state Claims Commission.

Here's a copy of the claim. It is filed in behalf of her heirs — four children, her parents and a sister — and makes claims for mental anguish and other damages.

The State Police carries no insurance for accidents and the state can't be sued, but the Claims Commission serves as the conscience of the state in considering awards to people damaged by state actions. Any award approved by the Commission would have to be appropriated by the legislature.

Robert Coleman of Blytheville, attorney for the Freemyer family, said negotiations continue on this claim. A settlement for less than the amount sought is a possibility in any claim. Indications are that the State Police stands ready to agree to a significant award.

This particular case has a number of potential political complications: It involves a cop and they frequently enjoy support for their official actions. But Rhew's case is more complicated. He was fired, twice before it was over, for speeding at more than 100 mph to a non-emergency call 20 miles away without running a siren or warning lights. But the State Police Commission, heavily influenced by the commissioner from Rhew's area, Wallace Fowler, ordered him reinstated though Rhew had plea bargained to a misdemeanor negligent manslaughter charge in Freemyer's death. Rhew resigned from the State Police in September after being arrested in a DWI wreck. A trial on that charge has not been held.

Freemyer's car was struck as she pulled slowly onto Highway 77 in Manila. That put her in the path of Rhew, who had been driving at speeds up to 103 mph, according to his cruiser's on-board data recorder. When he appealed his firing, other troopers said they, too, frequently drove at high speeds without lights and siren and his attorney argued that Freemyer, 52, contributed to the accident by pulling onto the highway. The claim cites Rhew's reckless and negligent actions and the State Police for failing to sufficiently train him and also for failing to sufficiently staff the driver's license center with security. Rhew was heading there because of a report of a person with an outstanding arrest warrant. The claim said local law officers could have been called rather than Rhew, who was 25 miles away.

The Claims Commission has awarded up to $6 million in the case of a child permanently disabled in an injury caused by highway machinery.

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