Car Accidents

$1.5M: in police-involved car accident death

Suffolk County has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the family of a Mastic teen who died nearly a decade ago after a car accident involving two police officers.

Teaisha Scales, 17, was a passenger in the 1998 Cadillac DeVille driven by her boyfriend on March 12, 2008, when the black sedan crashed into a utility pole on John’s Neck Road near Fairview Drive in Mastic Beach, according to court records.

The boyfriend, Michael Peacock, then 22, said a police cruiser that had been chasing him slammed into the rear of his Cadillac, causing him to lose control of the vehicle, according to his deposition.

The officers, in their depositions, said they followed the dark-colored sedan for about a mile because it went through stop signs and “appeared” to be speeding. The officers denied they engaged in a pursuit, and said they came upon the crash after it had occurred.

Scales survived the crash, but was paralyzed and sustained a broken neck and injuries to her heart and lungs. She died six days later, leaving a son, Frankie, who is now 11 years old.

The lawsuit, filed June, 9, 2009, alleged that officers Christopher Cummings and Christopher Sanchez, both of the Seventh Precinct, were negligent and reckless when they chased the Cadillac. Both officers are still working for the department, according to police.

The settlement was reached last fall, about two weeks into a jury trial in Riverhead.

The Suffolk Legislature’s Ways and Means committee on Thursday approved settlement. Legis. Rudoph Sunderman (R-Shirley) abstained, but declined to say why after the executive session.

The officers, the county, and the police department — all named as defendants in the lawsuit — did not admit liability, said Glenn Auletta, one of the attorneys for Scales’ family.

Acting Police Commissioner John Barry and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone declined to comment, according to their representatives.

On the day of the crash, Cummings and Sanchez said they were on patrol when they spotted the sedan at about 10 p.m. on John’s Neck Road, near Commack Road, according to their depositions. Cummings, who was driving, said he followed the sedan for about a mile, but didn’t activate the police car’s emergency lights and sirens because he hadn’t decided whether to pull the vehicle over, according to his deposition.

Cummings said he was traveling between 30 mph and 50 mph on roads where the speed limit was 30 mph, according to his deposition.

Peacock, who had pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter and other related crimes, was sentenced to 6 years in prison, according to court records.

An investigation by the Suffolk County Crime Laboratory to determine whether the vehicles came into contact with each other found two unidentified substances on the front bumper of the police cruiser and on the rear bumper of the Cadillac, Auletta said. Test results showed the substances on each vehicle did not match their respective paints, he said.

It’s not known whether investigators compared the two unidentified substances to each other, Auletta said, because that analysis was not part of the records a court had ordered the crime lab to turn over to his firm.

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