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Mother of 21-Year-Old Killed As Bystander In Police Chase Sues SC Sheriff’s Office

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Nearly one year after her 21-year-old son was killed as an innocent bystander in a high-speed police chase while on vacation in Charleston, South Carolina, a mother has filed a lawsuit against the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO).

Lori Beth Ashley filed the wrongful death lawsuit on June 29 in the Charleston County Court of Common Pleas on behalf of her son Lane Harold Lusk.

According to the lawsuit, Lusk was killed by a driver who was being chased by a CCSO deputy on the evening of July 19, 2019.

The driver, who was 16 years old at the time of the crash, was not named in the lawsuit.

The chase began around 9 p.m. when deputy Kevin Willis observed a stolen Toyota running a red light on Constitution Avenue and Dorchester Road in Charleston, the lawsuit said. Willis then turned on his police lights in an attempt to pull the Toyota over.

The driver of the Toyota instead accelerated and Willis followed close behind before deputy Robert Haslip joined as the secondary unit, according to the lawsuit.

The pursuit quickly became dangerous according to the lawsuit.

“Within approximately 30 seconds of the commencement of the CCSO pursuit, the Toyota ran two red lights and reached 90 miles per hour on Dorchester Road before driving into oncoming traffic then cutting a corner, jumping a curb, running off the road, and striking an innocent motorist in a Dodge Journey while turning right onto Meeting Street Road and heading
towards the City of Charleston,” the lawsuit said.

Haslip, who was in charge of reporting traffic conditions and speeds to dispatch, misrepresented the danger of the chase as Willis and the Toyota weaved in and out of dark and populated roadways, according to the lawsuit.

The high speed chase reached speeds of 109 MPH.

On Rivers Avenue in North Charleston, the 16-year-old driver of the Toyota then sideswiped a Mercedes sedan, and crossed over the median where he collided head-on with Lusk’s car, which was legally traveling east.

“The CCSO high-speed pursuit led by Deputy Willis lasted over 5 minutes, spanned nearly 6 miles from the City of North Charleston to the City of Charleston then back to the City of North Charleston where the devastating Collision occurred – all for a suspected property offense,” the lawsuit said.

Lane Lusk and his passenger Kyle Blassingame, both Tennessee Wesleyan University students, were both transported to the the Medical University of South Carolina immediately and underwent multiple surgeries.

Lane Lusk, a nursing student, died July 23, the McKenzie, Tennessee Banner newspaper reported.

The lawsuit claims that the deputies and their supervisor had the ability to stop the pursuit before it became deadly, but never did.

The sheriff’s office was negligent in failing to exercise “law enforcement protocols regarding the initiation, continuation, and termination of a high-speed pursuit,” the lawsuit claims.

CCSO is “vicariously liable” for Willis and Haslip’s negligent conduct in the pursuit, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit accuses CCSO of “creating a culture of promoting pursuits while failing to promote the safety of the public during pursuits by praising and/or rewarding officers for how frequently they pursued suspects,” the lawsuit said.

Hilton Head attorney James Berl and Charleston attorney Bert Utsey are representing Ashley in the lawsuit.

South Carolina Police Pursuits

A recent Greenville News investigation found that 113 people were killed during police pursuits in South Carolina from 2009 to 2018, making the Palmetto State No. 3 in the nation for people killed in police chases during that time, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.

A “vast majority” of police chases in South Carolina were “initiated over traffic violations and other nonviolent crimes, ” and one in three resulted in injury or death, according to a 2018 State newspaper article. In the article, several police experts suggested that a state-wide policy for police pursuits could help reduce the high number of deaths.

Police chases in South Carolina also result in a high number of lawsuits.

In May, A Greenville County woman filed a lawsuit against the the South Carolina Highway Patrol (SCHP) and the South Carolina Department of Public Safety (SCDPS) after her son was killed as a passenger in a 2019 police chase.

In April, five lawsuits were filed against the town of Irmo, South Carolina after three teenagers were killed following a 2018 police chase that began as a minor traffic violation.

In January, a Charleston County, South Carolina woman sued the Hanahan and North Charleston police departments after her husband was killed as a bystander in a 2018 police chase.

In 2018, an Easley, South Carolina woman won a $1 million settlement with the City of Liberty after her husband was killed as a bystander in a police chase by a man who was allegedly on meth. 

Even the suspects who were being pursued by police at the time of their accidents have won settlements against SC police departments. 

In 2014, an Orangeburg man who was injured after leading deputies on a police chase won a $260,000 settlement with the Orangeburg Department of Public Safety, the Times and Democrat reported.

That man, Quinnton Jamar Henderson, has allegedly led police on two other chases since he won the lawsuit in 2014, according to the Times and Democrat.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an award-winning journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Want to contact Mandy? Send your story ideas, comments, suggestions and tips to [email protected].

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