Parents sue over Wichita police car hitting, killing girl

12/27/2012 3:01 PM

12/27/2012 3:01 PM

Parents of a 12-year-old Wichita girl who died in February after a police patrol car struck her while responding to a burglary have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the officer and the city.

The lawsuit, filed earlier this month in Sedgwick County District Court, says Wichita police Officer Atlee Vogt was driving north in the 1600 block of South Broadway around 6:55 p.m. on Feb. 12, and that according to Kansas Highway Patrol calculations, Vogt “was negligently traveling in excess of the posted speed and was traveling between 39 and 51 miles per hour with no emergency lights or sirens activated.” The speed limit was 30 mph.

The lawsuit claims “Vogt was further negligent for … failing to devote his full time and attention; failing to travel a speed commensurate with his visibility; failing to keep a proper look out … and failing to adhere” to department policies on operating a vehicle.

In an e-mail Thursday, Dustin DeVaughn, the attorney representing the parents in the lawsuit, said: “Kansas law requires the police to abide by the same traffic rules and regulations as everyone else — unless the officer is responding to an emergency call with both lights and sirens activated. In this tragic situation, the police officer was traveling at a high rate of speed, at night, in a 30 mph zone without his emergency lights or sirens activated. Had the officer had his lights and sirens activated or had the officer been traveling the posted speed limit, twelve-year-old Suhani Bhakta would still be with us.”

Shortly after the accident, Wichita police said the officer was on his way to a burglary occurring at an automotive business and that he was following policy in such situations by driving without emergency lights or sirens. Police said investigators were looking at whether an SUV traveling on Broadway obstructed the officer’s view and said the officer braked hard before hitting the girl.

On Thursday, a spokesman for the Wichita Police Department, Capt. John Speer, said he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit because he hadn’t seen it. Sharon Dickgrafe, chief deputy city attorney, said in an e-mail that the city’s legal office had yet to receive a formal summons about the lawsuit and that she couldn’t comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit, which says the city is responsible for Vogt’s actions, is seeking an amount in excess of $75,000 in addition to costs and “any further relief” deemed fair.

The accident occurred on a Sunday night. The patrol car hit the girl as she darted into Broadway, on her way to the Dillons grocery store across from the Frontier Motel, her family’s business and her home. She lived with her younger sister, her parents and paternal grandparents. The motel sits in a neighborhood of Indian-owned businesses along Broadway from Kellogg to Pawnee. India is her family’s native country.

Suhani was a seventh-grader at Mayberry Middle School.

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