Former Muni driver sues S.F. for injuries received in police chase

A former San Francisco Municipal Railway driver sued The City on Tuesday, claiming that police and paramedics’ failure to follow proper procedures caused a crash, then exacerbated injuries that rendered him a quadriplegic and force him to breath through a ventilator.

Vernon Crowder was 59 on Aug. 9, 2005, when Mark A. Robinson allegedly rammed a 1984 El Camino into Crowder’s 1993 BMW at Third Street and Revere Avenue during a police chase.

According to the lawsuit, a witness reported that two officers in an unmarked police car flashed their lights at Robinson as he performed “doughnuts” and “burnouts” on Third Street just before the crash.

Instead of pulling over for the officers, the lawsuit alleges, Robinson fled down Third Street toward Revere Avenue. The officers, the lawsuit claims, chased him. Crowder claims that police failed to turn on their lights and sirens, asserting that he would have known to stay out of the way if he had heard sirens and seen lights.

“I had just filed my retirement papers that morning,” Crowder said in a telephone interview Thursday. “I was coming to Third. I had the green light. Next thing I know, my lights was out.”

The San Francisco Police and Public Health departments, in accordance with city policy, referred all inquiries to the City Attorney’s Office.

“We have not been served with a complaint and it would be premature for us to comment on it,” City Attorney’s Office spokesman Matt Dorsey said Thursday.

Court documents show that Robinson was charged with felonies in the incident, including hit-and-run causing death or injury, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs causingbodily injury and reckless driving. A misdemeanor charge of obstructing police officers was dismissed.

An accident report documenting the collision does not indicate that Robinson’s vehicle was involved in a police chase. The lawsuit, however, maintains that police engaged in a conspiracy to omit any reference to the alleged chase in the collision report.

The legal argument, Crowder’s attorney Miles Cooper said, focuses on the contention, “that they [police] did not have or did not follow a pursuit policy that would have prevented this accident from happening.”

Police General Order 5.05 indicates that officers who participate in vehicle pursuits must engage their red lights and sirens.

Crowder also claims that as paramedics were transporting him to the hospital they dropped him, worsening his injuries.

Crowder said he had been on his way to his Bayview district home, about 12 blocks from the crash site. He had hoped to spend his retirement mastering computers, he said. Now he can barely move.

“I’m basically in my bed and then I get in the wheelchair. That’s my life right now,” he said. “I have to depend on people.”

While the attorneys prepare to settle the case in court, Crowder, who now lives in Antioch where his son and other family members help take care of him, wonders who will pay for his mounting hospital bills. He said he is seeking compensation for the cost of his injuries — an unspecified amount of money that Cooper said could stretch “into the millions.”

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