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Jury awards $21.3M to family of mother of 5 killed in high-speed police chase

Maria Carrion-Adame (holding flowers) poses with family members. She was killed after a car being chased by Chicago police struck her vehicle as she was heading to church with her family. | GoFundMe

Leslie Carrion doesn’t remember much from the December 2015 evening when she was seriously injured in a horrific crash that killed her mother and sent 11 others to hospitals.

“I just remember when I was in the car with them trying to bring me out,” Carrion said Wednesday. “And then I don’t remember anything else.”

The crash that killed Carrion’s mother — 37-year-old Maria Carrion-Adame, a mother of five who was riding with her family to the annual Our Lady of Guadalupe mass and pilgrimage in Des Plaines — was the violent end to a high-speed police pursuit of a teenager driving a suspected stolen minivan through residential streets.

On Tuesday, more than three years after the minivan crashed into the family’s SUV, a Cook County jury decided the Chicago police officers chasing the minivan were reckless in their pursuit and awarded Carrion-Adame’s family $21.3 million, resulting in one of the most expensive police misconduct lawsuits in Chicago history.

Carrion, who was 15 at the time of the crash, is still feeling the effects of her fractured pelvis and lacerated heart that hospitalized her for a month.

“I still have pain,” Carrion told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I can’t run anymore. I can’t walk a lot anymore.”

The award didn’t ease that pain, or the pain of the loss of her mother, Carrion said. And though the jury’s verdict brought a sense of justice, Carrion said she and her family will forever feel a void.

“No one is the same anymore,” Carrion said. “The people who were in the hospital for months, they still have pain. The rest of my family, they have pain because my mom is not here anymore. My siblings, they’re not the same anymore. You can see in their eyes that they’re not happy. We’re missing our mom.”

Law department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the city is “disappointed” in the jury’s verdict and is evaluating its options. Appeal could be among those options.

The lawsuit stemming from Carrion-Adame’s death was filed against two officers, a sergeant and the teenage driver of the stolen minivan.

The crash happened about 5:45 p.m. on Dec. 12, 2015, at 71st and Carpenter Streets, a residential intersection in Englewood. The officers started the chase after they saw the driver blow a stop sign in a Dodge Caravan that had been reported missing, authorities said at the time.

Speeding through the neighborhood, the pursuit ended when the driver of the minivan ran a stop sign and plowed into a Dodge Durango that carried 11 people, sending the SUV flying into a light pole and onto the lawn of a home across the street, police said.

The injured victims ranged in age from 3 to 56 years old.

The lawsuit accused the officers of an “utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others” as they initiated the pursuit in an unmarked car with no sirens engaged and continued the chase although a sergeant ordered them to stop. Shortly after the crash, police had said a marked squad car with its lights activated pursued the minivan.

The teenager driving the van, Trevante Reed, was arrested near the scene with two other teenagers who ran from the crash. The trio, however, was only initially charged with possession of a stolen vehicle after none would admit to driving.

A year and a half later, Reed was charged with reckless homicide in the crash after DNA evidence revealed he was at the wheel of the stolen minivan. Reed, 16 at the time of the crash, was jailed for more than a year before he pleaded guilty last September to involuntary manslaughter.

Reed was sentenced to three years in prison but, after spending two months at Stateville Correctional Center, was paroled in November after time served and other provisions were taken into account.

For a city mired in police misconduct lawsuits, the latest ranks among the most expensive in Chicago history and is likely the biggest award for a police pursuit that resulted in a crash.

Over the past decade, the city has spent more than $25 million on 62 police chase crashes, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of city data.

Only three of those cases in the past decade went to trial, with the largest of those jury awards coming at $3.5 million in 2017. Among pre-trial settlements, the city had not paid more than $5 million for any single police pursuit case in the past 10 years before the Carrion-Adame verdict, according to city data.

McCaffrey declined to comment on why this case was taken to trial and not settled.

The attorney representing Carrion-Adame’s family said the city thought it could “roll the dice with someone’s life” by taking the case to trial.

“They created a narrative that this was a short chase in a residential neighborhood and not high speed, and they felt they could roll the dice with someone’s life and take the chance that a jury would believe that this was a necessary pursuit,” said attorney Antonio Romanucci. “And instead, the exact opposite happened.”

An emotional Carrion said Wednesday that she misses her mom, whom she called her “best friend.”

“I feel happy because finally they’re going to do something for my mom and sad because nothing is going to bring her back,” Carrion said. “But now we can have peace in our hearts.”

Contributing: Stefano Esposito