Santa Rosa agrees to pay $260,000 to woman hit by police truck
It started as a quest for lottery scratchers.
Laure Friedell had parked her Nissan sedan outside the 7-Eleven on West Steele Lane in Santa Rosa at about 4:40 p.m. on April 27, 2017, a clear dry day. Before she ducked into the store to buy a few scratchers, she set her cigarette next to the front wheel on the driver’s side. She didn’t bother stubbing it out, figuring it would still be burning when she got back.
When she returned, she couldn’t find it. She hunched down by the ground near the side of her car, tickets in hand, looking for her smoke.
As she stooped, Santa Rosa Police Detective Michael Spediacci III turned into the parking lot. The narcotics investigator was headed to a nearby police substation to fill out his time card. He looked at the spot next to Friedell’s car and, thinking it was clear, started to pull in the city-owned Dodge pickup truck he was driving, keeping an eye on a large tree on the other side of the apparently empty spot.
But Friedell was still there, hunched over. Spediacci was moving slowly and decelerating when his truck hit her and rolled over her right foot and left leg. Spediacci later told police he felt a small bump, but he may not have known he hit the crouched woman until he opened his door and heard her screams, according to court records.
The crash, which left Friedell, 29, with serious and potentially permanent leg injuries, spurred a March 2018 lawsuit by the Santa Rosa woman. The Santa Rosa City Council agreed last month to settle by paying Friedell $260,000 in exchange for her dropping her suit.
City Attorney Sue Gallagher, who became Santa Rosa’s top lawyer two years ago, called the settlement a “significant” one for the city and said she could not recall another settlement related to an officer-involved collision with a pedestrian. Archived city settlement documents indicate the city paid just under $4,000 in 2017 to settle a man’s allegations that he was sideswiped by an officer on a motorcycle.
The 2017 crash that injured Friedell didn’t break any bones or tear any ligaments, according to her attorney, Josh West, but it left her temporarily unable to put weight on her left leg.
When she regained mobility, she found that her injuries had left her legs uneven, raising the prospect that she would need tendon extension surgery, West said.
“Her future in terms of ever getting this fully behind her and back to 100% may not happen,” West said.
Despite at least two police investigations that put the brunt of the blame on Spediacci, city attorneys mounted a defense. The city denied that the detective was liable for Friedell’s injuries and disputed the finding in the initial police report about how she was positioned at the time of the crash.
“Det. Spediacci was, from all that we have uncovered, alert and attentive at the time,” Gallagher said. “The facts appear that at most — looking at things in the best case for the plaintiff — he would have had about two seconds of visibility of a portion of her body.”
The Santa Rosa police officer who wrote the initial report determined the cause of the crash was an “unsafe parking maneuver with an associated factor of vision obscurement” related to Friedell’s body position and her nearby sedan. A second police review board focused on officer-involved collisions also looked at the incident and found that the crash was “preventable.”