The parents of a 16-year-old boy who suffered fatal injuries during a high-speed chase with police have filed a lawsuit alleging Weber County mishandled efforts to stop the teen.
Melvin and Raeghn Torrie filed the lawsuit in 2nd District Court on behalf of their deceased son, Wayne. The family says if Deputy Denton Harper, involved in the chase, had followed the county's policy of chasing only dangerous criminals, Wayne Torrie would still be alive.
"We expect the police to live by their rules and regulations that create a safe condition for the public, just as the public is expected to live by certain rules and regulations," said Torrie family attorney James W. McConkie.
The Weber County Sheriff's Office denies its deputy was at fault.
On March 23, Wayne Torrie arrived at the family's Petersboro home from school, upset because of harassing and teasing from schoolmates, the complaint states.
After a minor argument with another sibling, an upset Wayne took the family's Suburban and left the house, according to the complaint. His mother called the Cache County Sheriff's Office and asked for help in locating the teen.
Once aware police were looking for him, he sent his mother a text message saying he was afraid of going to jail and would escape or even harm himself if sought, court documents say.
The teen was located in Weber County after he left Cache County.
The complaint states that Weber officers were aware of the texts he had sent his mother, but when Weber deputy Harper spotted Torrie he tried to stop him, the complaint said. A short high-speed pursuit began and Torrie's car hit an embankment and rolled. Torrie was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the SUV. He died the next morning.
"The officer did nothing wrong," said attorney Peter Stirba, who is representing Weber County and Harper. "This is a very tragic event, obviously, but it is also clear that the young [teen] involved was intent on doing himself harm, over which the officer had no control. He was thrown from the vehicle because he was not wearing a seat belt, which resulted in his unfortunate death."
Stirba said Harper not only followed policy but exercised good judgment given the information he had at the time.
In the complaint, the Torries claim Weber County and Harper did not properly train for, or follow rules and regulations regarding, high-speed pursuits.
In the filed response, the defendants denied the allegations.
The parents are seeking unspecified monetary damages for personal injuries, medical expenses, pain and suffering.
When to chase
Police agencies have varying policies on when to initiate a chase:
In Salt Lake County, police departments allow their officers to chase fleeing cars only if the suspect is wanted for a violent felony, such as murder, robbery or aggravated assault.
Utah Highway Patrol troopers can pursue suspects for offenses as minor as expired registration or speeding.
The Summit County Sheriff's Office decides whether to initiate its pursuits on a case-by-case basis.