The only survivor of a police chase in March that left three people dead after a fiery crash on Chevy Chase Circle alleges in a lawsuit made public Friday that a Montgomery County police officer rammed his vehicle and caused the accident.
Montgomery police have said repeatedly since the March 23 incident that there is no evidence that any of their cars came in contact with the Toyota Echo that police pursued after determining it had been stolen. Police say the car hit a tree before bursting into flames.
“That remains our position today,” Capt. Paul Starks, a police spokesman, said Friday. He declined to comment further, citing a department policy of not discussing active litigation.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Reeco Richardson, 18, seeks more than $10 million in damages. According to the lawsuit, Richardson suffered fractured ribs and emotional damage from hearing two of his friends scream as they burned to death.
Richardson has been charged with car theft in the case. He was the front-seat passenger inside the Echo. The rear-seat passengers, cousins Kyree Nelson, 14, and Emanuel Nelson, 16, died inside the car. The driver, Reynard Osman, 16, was severely injured and died March 28.
The lawsuit asserts that the police chase was improper because such pursuits should be limited to serious suspected crimes.
The suit says Osman was heading south toward the District on Connecticut Avenue at more than 100 mph but slowed the Echo to 50 mph as it entered Chevy Chase Circle, near the line separating the District and Montgomery County. The car skidded to a stop at a curb along the inside of the circle, according the lawsuit. At that point, it says, a police officer rammed the car so that it could not enter the District, where the lawsuit said Montgomery police would have had to halt their pursuit.
“The Toyota Echo operated by Osman had stopped and would not have collided with the tree and [become] engulfed by the flames causing injury to him and the other occupants had the police vehicle not rammed the Toyota Echo which the occupants were seeking to exit,” the lawsuit states.
The suit also faulted the physical design of Chevy Chase Circle. If the interior curb had been better designed, according to the suit, it would have stopped the Echo from crossing into the grassy center of the circle and hitting the tree.
The Toyota in which Richardson and the others were riding was reported stolen in the middle of March by a woman in Silver Spring. She valued the car at $6,300 and said it had been in her driveway.
A Montgomery patrol officer spotted the Echo early March 23 near Connecticut Avenue and East-West Highway. He didn’t know it was stolen, but he typed the license-plate number into his on-board computer, police said. The procedure is common, particularly among night-shift officers.
The officer radioed for backup, and officers started converging on the area. According to previous police accounts, the officers were preparing to make a group stop of the Echo on Connecticut Avenue.
According to the suit, the Echo stopped at a red light on Connecticut Avenue, about two miles north of Chevy Chase Circle — and by that time, about a half-dozen police cars were also at the intersection. When the light turned green, Osman took off, eventually topping 100 miles per hour.
Montgomery County police have said the ensuing chase was proper. After the Echo slammed into the tree, officers ran to it and rescued the two people in the front seat, according to police. They said officers couldn’t get to the passengers in the back because of the flames.
Richardson’s attorneys, Governor E. Jackson III and Donald R. Huskey, said their claims are based on the findings of hired experts and on Richardson’s recollection of the collision.
“He remembers this quite vividly,” Jackson said Friday.