Suit claims SPD pursuit left teen a quadriplegic



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Posted on May 31, 2013 at 10:39 PM

Channary Hor of West Seattle was a sophomore in high school and the daughter of Cambodian immigrants. She dreamed of becoming a social worker. But on May 18, 2006, Hor went for a ride with Omar Tammam, a young man she'd just met. That car ride changed her life forever.

Tammam drove to Seward Park in South Seattle. He and Hor were talking in his Cadillac, looking out a Lake Washington. But the park had closed and police confronted them.

“With lights on behind the car, spotlight on the car, and the officer approached and knocked on the window,” said attorney Ben Barcus, who represents Hor.

Barcus says that Tammam took off and two Seattle patrol cars gave “hot pursuit.”

“She (Hor) was frightened, very frightened and Mr. Tammam said I’ll stop if they stop. And, I can’t lose them,” Barcus said.

It went on for about a minute with the Cadillac reaching speeds of 86 miles an hour until it slammed into a retaining wall six tenths of a mile from the park, according to court documents. Tammam got out and ran, but Channary Hor would never walk again.

"She had fractures of both bones in her wrist, of her fingers, she had a fracture of her knee cap, fracture of an ankle and…most seriously a fracture of her neck,” Barcus said.

Hor’s spinal fracture means she will spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

“She is paralyzed from mid-chest down and above her chest suffers chronic pain daily,” Barcus said.

Hor sued and now, seven years after the crash, the case is going to trial.

The crux of the case is whether police were chasing the Cadillac, in violation of an SPD policy banning high speed pursuits, unless officers think a serious crime has been committed. In this case, all police knew was the pair was violating park curfew. They did speed off, but unless the need for immediate capture outweighs the danger police aren't supposed to give chase, according to the policy.

In its trial brief, the City of Seattle “denies officers engaged in a vehicle pursuit.” The brief states that, “Omar Tammam's criminal acts were the sole cause of the crash that injured Ms. Hor."

City Attorney Pete Holmes said the police officers did initially follow the Cadillac because it fled recklessly out of the park, but officers quickly lost sight of the car and broke off.

A police dispatch record appears to contradict that account, classifying the incident as a “traffic pursuit.”

Both sides agree what happened to Channary Hor is tragic. Holmes blames Hor’s injuries on her “poor choices” getting into the car.

Hor's attorney will try to convince jurors that police are to blame & the city should pay $35 million dollars he said she will need for her care for the rest of her life.

"It's about public safety and a preventable situation that had the rules been followed this never would have happened and a 16 year old girl would not now be a quadriplegic," Barcus said.

When he fled from police Omar Tammam had two misdemeanor warrants. Following the crash, he plead guilty to vehicular assault and felony hit and run.