CHICAGO (AP) — Surveillance video obtained exclusively by The Associated Press shows two fast-moving Chicago police vehicles with their emergency lights on colliding at an intersection, then crashing into a stationary car and killing an 84-year-old retired teacher.
The video was provided to the AP on Monday by a lawyer representing the woman’s family. It shows a police van going through a red light and striking another police vehicle. Both then both slam into the family car, killing Verona Gunn and injuring three others.
The Memorial Day weekend collision also injured 10 police officers. Authorities have said the accident involved police vehicles and a civilian car, but couldn’t say definitively who caused it because the investigation was ongoing.
The Gunn family lawyer, Andrew M. Stroth, told the AP that the police vehicles violated department rules that dictate officers responding to calls slow as they approach intersections to ensure they can proceed safely. Dispatchers had said there were reports of someone with a gun nearby, which, according to Stroth, is not an extraordinary report for Chicago.
“This was a response to standard call for service and it was not a police pursuit,” the family attorney said. “It did not necessitate officers drive in a reckless manner. As a result, the matriarch of the family was killed.”
The family car, a Toyota sedan, had stopped as around 10 police vehicles passed through the same intersection before the crash, Stroth said. The car was still idling when the collision occurred.
Accidents involving law enforcement vehicles have long been a public safety concern, both for civilians and officers.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which highlights the risk of police vehicles crossing intersections, said that in most years, traffic-related accidents overall are the main cause of death for on-duty officers, with 564 killed in crashes — including ones involving officers on foot in or by the roadside — from 2005-2016. It didn’t include the number of civilian deaths in those crashes.
Stroth filed a wrongful lawsuit in Cook County court Monday, naming the city of Chicago and the two officers driving the vehicles that night. They are only referred to as John Doe 1 and 2.
Chicago’s law department said it had not seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.
Days before the May 25 crash, new Mayor Lori Lightfoot had announced a stepped-up police presence and an increase in youth programs for the Memorial Day weekend in a bid to stave off violent crime on a holiday that’s seen an uptick in shootings in previous years. Stroth said the stepped up presence could have played an indirect role in the accident.
“Part of the reaction by police that weekend was based on the surge of officers in these areas,” he said. “It resulted in a complete overreaction by officers responding to calls.”
The accident occurred on a Saturday night in Chicago’s Austin on the West Side, which Stroth describes as a densely populated neighborhood that should have led officers to be especially cautious.
Gunn’s son, Dwight, wrote a letter to Lightfoot and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson last month that called Verona Gunn “the matriarch” of the family who worked for 30 years as a teacher. Two other adults in the car and a 9-year-old were also injured, the letter said.
Dwight Gunn also thanked Lightfoot and Johnson for calling the family to express their condolences and to assure them there will be “a full and swift” investigation.
On Monday night, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the department expressed its “deepest condolences” to the Gunn family but couldn’t comment on the specifics of the crash.
“Both the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and the Chicago Police department are independently investigating” the crash, Gugleilmi said.