Attorneys for the family of injured Wichita police officer Brian Arterburn say they now have reason to think the SUV that ran him over last year wasn't stolen from a Wichita car lot as reported. It was out on loan from the dealership, and the man allegedly driving it that day, Justin Terrazas, may have had permission to use it, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of the family.
The new allegations are part of a civil lawsuit filed last month that accuses the SUV's registered owner, Eddy's Chevrolet Cadillac, of negligence in connection with the Feb. 7, 2017, police pursuit of what they were told was a stolen vehicle and hit-and-run that left Arterburn with disabling injuries.
Arterburn's wife, Claudale Arterburn, is seeking more than $75,000 in damages in the case.
Neither Eddy's Chevrolet Cadillac, 8801 E. Kellogg Drive, nor an attorney representing the dealership returned messages seeking comment on the lawsuit this week. The dealership is owned by Brandon Steven Motors.
In an amended petition filed April 6, attorneys at Hutton and Hutton Law Firm said they've received new information that suggests that, rather than being stolen as Eddy's reported, the dealership entrusted the black 2016 Chevy Tahoe that drove over Arterburn to a friend or acquaintance of an Eddy's employee at some point. Two dealer tags were also out on loan, it says.
The Tahoe is worth $66,200.
Eddy's reported the SUV and the dealer tags as stolen a few hours before Arterburn was hurt. Officers who saw it parked at a house they were staking out called the dealership that morning to ask about its status. The dealership at that time told police the SUV disappeared in December 2016.
Why Eddy's waited nearly two months to make the theft report has been unclear. Arterburn's original lawsuit, filed March 19, accuses Eddy's of negligence for failing to make the report sooner.
In addition to alleging that the SUV wasn't actually stolen, the new petition also says Terrazas was likely "a permissive user" of the Tahoe. He got it either directly from the dealership or from whomever Eddy's originally loaned it to, the lawsuit says.
One witness, the petition notes, told police that he was not discreet about driving it with the dealer tags on it.
"It is all but impossible that the defendant dealership (Eddy's) would have failed to notice the absence of a $66,200 vehicle from its inventory for a period of over seven weeks, regardless of what specific system was in place for tracking inventory," the new petition says. Eddy's inventory was subject to daily checks that would have quickly turned up a missing or unaccounted for vehicle, it says.
The Tahoe, it continues, also "was equipped with OnStar security features, which would have allowed the dealership to locate a stolen vehicle and potentially disable the ignitions — features that (the) defendant should have prudently employed if the vehicle was, in fact, stolen," the lawsuit says.
Whichever Eddy's employee manager or staff who loaned out the SUV "was negligent in furnishing its motor vehicle to a person he or she had reasonable cause to know to be an incompetent and reckless driver — thus making the defendant liable for all damages caused by Mr. Terrazas."
Hutton and Hutton Law Firm declined to comment on the allegations in the amended petition.
The new accusations raise questions about whether police would have pursued the SUV if officers had not been told by the dealership that it was stolen.
Officers staking out the south Wichita house where the Tahoe was parked on Feb. 7, 2017, were looking for another man, Seth Allen Dulaney, who was wanted on an attempted burglary charge. Officers contacted Eddy's Chevrolet Cadillac only after they saw the SUV sitting in the driveway with the dealer tags.
They weren't there that day for the SUV or for Terrazas.
About two hours after Eddy's made the theft report, Terrazas got into the Tahoe, backed out of the driveway and drove away. Police followed in a marked patrol car. When police flipped on emergency lights and sirens to try to pull over the Tahoe, Terrazas allegedly fled and led officers on chase.
Officers staking out the house where the Tahoe was parked had been in radio communication with Arterburn and his partner, who were trying to head off its driver. The Tahoe ran over Arterburn as he was trying to place a tire deflation device on the pavement to halt the SUV's flight.
Arterburn suffered debilitating injuries and brain damage that required months of rehabilitation and have so far prevented him from returning to work. He is a 25-year veteran of the Wichita Police Department.
After Terrazas' arrest, police discovered enough methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia in the SUV for Terrazas to be charged with drug dealing. He'd already spent time in prison for theft, burglary and child sex crimes, according to Kansas Department of Corrections records.
The new petition doesn't offer speculation about whether Arterburn would have been hurt if the dealership hadn't said the SUV was stolen when police called on Feb. 7, 2017.
It also does not say to whom the SUV was loaned or when. Arterburn's attorneys still are trying to find out everyone who had it after it left Eddy's lot and which employee checked it out, the lawsuit says.
Terrazas, 32, is charged with aggravated battery of a law enforcement officer and other crimes in connection with Arterburn's injuries and the police pursuit on Feb. 7, 2017. He's scheduled for a jury trial on Aug. 20.