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City of Wichita to settle suit over death of girl killed by patrol car

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, June 20, 2013, at 5:31 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, June 25, 2013, at 10:08 a.m.

The city plans to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a 12-year-old girl struck and killed by a Wichita police patrol car, according to city officials.

Suhani Bhakta was darting across South Broadway near her home when she was struck and killed just before 7 p.m. Feb. 12, 2012, by a patrol car driven by Officer Atlee Vogt.

Bhakta’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city in December, saying Vogt was speeding and driving without lights and sirens when the accident occurred.

The settlement is on the consent agenda for the Wichita City Council’s meeting at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. Consent agendas include actions to be approved as a group, generally without discussion, unless the council agrees to pull an item for debate.

City agenda documents do not identify Bhakta, but do identify the date of the accident as Feb. 12, 2012.

Gary Rebenstorf, the city’s director of law, confirmed Thursday afternoon that the settlement is for the Bhakta accident.

The settlement, which is not an admission of liability on the part of the city, will be paid by the city’s self-insurance fund and may require the issuance of general obligation bonds, according to city documents.

Suhani’s family contended in the lawsuit that the city was negligent in department policy and in training, supervising and retaining Vogt.

The Kansas Highway Patrol, which investigated the accident, concluded that Vogt’s patrol car was traveling between 39 and 51 mph in a 30 mph zone, with no sirens or emergency lights.

In response to the lawsuit, the police department denied that Vogt was speeding or negligent, contending that the officer was on his way to a burglary at an automotive business, and that he followed department policy by approaching the burglary without emergency lights and sirens.

In addition, the department said, Vogt hard-braked before hitting the girl and an approaching SUV may have obstructed his view as the girl ran into the street.

Vogt has been named in a second lawsuit, filed in May by Juan M. Santiago, that alleges Vogt was negligent in a high-speed chase when a fleeing driver ran a red light and struck Santiago, leaving him with internal injuries and fractured bones.

Wichita police policy allows officers to speed only with lights and sirens, which are reserved for specific emergencies.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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