Provo City and its police department have been named in a $10 million lawsuit that partially blames the city for the death of a 19-year-old Brigham Young University student killed last year by a drunken driver who was fleeing police.
In addition to naming the city and police department, the suit names Provo Police officer Phillip A. Webber; Jerry R. Meissner, who is serving one to 15 years in the state prison for automobile homicide in the death of Chad M. Weaver, Spokane, Wash.; Jaime R. Meissner, brother of Jerry and a passenger in his pickup at the time of the accident; and the California firm Forte Hotels International Inc.The suit was filed by the decedent's parents, James and Brenda Weaver, his sister Jaime, and Cynthia Rippstein, a passenger in Chad Weaver's vehicle who was seriously injured in the March 28, 1987 accident.
According to a stipulation of fact Jerry Meissner signed last August, he was intoxicated when he ran a red light at the intersection of University Avenue and First South while fleeing Provo police. After entering the intersection while eastbound on First South, Jerry Meissner's pickup, going approximately 70 mph, smashed into a pickup driven by Chad Weaver.
Weaver was killed instantly and Rippstein suffered massive skull injuries that left her physically and mentally impaired.
According to the lawsuit, the "Provo Police Department (and) the City of Provo . . . negligently failed to provide guidelines, standards or procedures to be followed by police officers chasing or pursuing suspects driving vehicles. Furthermore, said defendants . . . failed to employ an adequate traffic control system, whereby vehicles driven by innocent persons would not be unreasonably subjected to danger during vehicular pursuits of suspects by police vehicles."
The suit claims Webber unlawfully pursued Meissner's vehicle and "negligently, willfully, recklessly and unlawfully failed to abandon said pursuit and chase."
Provo Mayor Joe Jenkins said city officials were sorry the accident occurred, but he stood by police department procedures.
"We do train them (police officers) and we do have a standard procedure in the city and the state of Utah that is a national standard" used when pursuing suspect vehicles, he said. "Our contention is that officer Webber was not in hot pursuit. He was definitely operating within the guidelines we've established. Almost never would we have a hot pursuit in the city."
The suit claims Jerry Meissner "negligently, carelessly, recklessly and unlawfully" drove his vehicle the night of the accident and says his brother Jaime did nothing to prevent Meissner from driving while intoxicated and, in fact, encouraged his "careless, reckless and unlawful acts."
Forte Hotels International, which owns the Travelodge Motel at 124 S. University, is named because the motel is "negligently situated" and prevented Meissner and Weaver from seeing each other's vehicles as they entered the intersection.
Rippstein seeks $2.5 million plus medical and legal costs, and members of the victim's family seek $2.5 million each, plus funeral and burial expenses, court costs and other relief to be determined by the court.