An article in today’s Los Angeles Times looks at the fatal crash that killed 25 year old Devin Petelski, a counselor for troubled children. What makes this story more interesting than most is that the car that smashed into Petelski’s BMW Sedan was a Crown Victoria with flashing lights driven by Officer James Eldridge, a 20 year veteran of the LAPD.
Petelski’s death enraged communities in Venice, where she lived and worked, and Brentwood, where she grew up. Residents marched on the Venice District Headquarters and distributed news and rumors via social media. The LAPD has consistently caused the crash an “accident” and Elridge has faced no public discipline despite a $5 million settlement reached between the LAPD and Petelski’s family.
Why such a large settlement if Eldridge did nothing worthy of even a disciplinary action by the LAPD, then why the large settlement? Times writer Joel Rubin, who sounds painfully even handed in his review of the case, gives two reasons.
1) Two witnesses who were behind Eldridge’s car claim he was going between 60-80 miles per hour when the BMW pulled in front of the squad car. The LAPD reports claim that the two gave different testimony at the crash site, clouding the LAPD’s crash report.
2) Every LAPD car has a “black box” that shows LAPD vehicle speeds in the 25 seconds before collisions. LAPD claimed that they couldn’t get the black box to work after the crash. But an independent contractor was able to get the box to work. Unsurprisingly, it showed that Eldridge’s driving wasn’t quite what the LAPD was claiming.
According to the numbers retrieved from the on-board computer, Eldridge slowed nearly to a stop and then rapidly accelerated about 17 seconds before colliding with Petelski. With the gas pedal pressed to the floor and the engine throttle fully open, his speed climbed from 30 to 50 to 75 mph in a span of 10 seconds. About three seconds before impact — and a fraction of a second before Eldridge hit the brake — the car’s speed topped out at 78 mph.
The entire story tells a tale of a police agency that is sticking to its guns and defending one of its own. The entire story is worth a read, and a hat tip to Rubin and the Times for telling the tale.