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The Times
  • Accident victim seeks damages from police officer, village

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  • A woman who was injured as a result of an accident that occurred during a police pursuit last year is seeking compensatory and punitive damages totaling more than $2 million.
    Louise Medallis filed the summons in a civil action against Herkimer Police Officer Jody Wheet, individually and as a Herkimer police officer, and the village of Herkimer.
    Medallis was badly injured and her sister, 65-year-old Gail Pietruska, was killed May 24, 2012, when Wheet was pursuing Daniel E. Conklin, 24, of Rochester, along state Route 5 and his vehicle struck the 2006 Toyota in which Medallis was riding as her sister, who was driving, was making a left turn onto Route 5.
    The summons states the officer maintained “a high-speed chase and police pursuit well beyond the village of Herkimer’s jurisdictional boundaries for a distance of approximately six miles, contrary to standard police procedures and directives of the village of Herkimer pertaining to police pursuits.”
    She states Wheet failed “to exercise ordinary and reasonable care to ascertain” that the vehicle Conklin was driving was “in a position of imminent peril so as to avoid the fatal accident which resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries and the death of her sister.”
    The summons also states the village failed to properly train, supervise and discipline the officer in police pursuit and emergency driving procedures and says Conklin was subjected to “unreasonable, excessive force” by the defendants that resulted in the crash.
    It states the village’s de facto policy “is one of deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of citizens through failure to supervise and train police officers in police pursuit, driving procedures and failure to institute or implement policies, guidelines, standards or protocols with regard to police pursuit driving.”
    The summons states Medallis suffered lower back pain, rib fractures, bruises, fractures, multiple contusions, emotional distress, mental anxiety and psychological trauma as a result of the accident and says she was deprived of her civil and constitutional rights, liberty and her good name and reputation in the community as well as invasion of privacy.
    It calls for a jury trial. Attorney Ricardo J. Mauro, of Utica, is representing Medallis. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court. A conference date is scheduled for Nov. 20.
    The village has referred the case to its insurance carrier, New York Municipal Insurance Reciprocal, which is investigating the matter and has assigned the case to the law firm of Murphy, Burns, Barber and Murphy.
    Conklin was sentenced to 5 to 8 years in prison in May after pleading guilty in Herkimer County Court to second-degree manslaughter, second-degree assault and first-degree unlawfully fleeing police.
    The high-speed chase began in the village of Herkimer when Conklin failed to stop for police after speeding through a school zone. He drove faster and faster on Route 5, refusing to stop until his car slammed into the SUV driven by Pietruska.
    Page 2 of 2 - Sisters Pietruska and Medallis had moved from New Jersey to Frankfort two months before the accident.
    Herkimer Police Chief Joseph Malone said at the time the pursuit continued as long as it did because the officer witnessed a woman, Rebecca Mento, being forced from Conklin’s moving vehicle on German Street. He said that prompted Wheet to begin a chase to determine whether Mento had been the victim of an abduction or whether anyone else was in danger in the vehicle, Malone said.
    The chase went on for about five minutes and stretched about 5 miles west along Route 5, Malone said. New York state troopers were heading to set up “stop sticks” in the roadway to puncture Conklin’s tires as Conklin’s vehicle began to reach speeds more than 80 mph.
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