ROCKPORT — The family of the surviving passenger in a December car crash that killed two teenagers has notified the town it will file a lawsuit against the town and police department.

The notice claims negligence on the part of a police officer who pursued the teens, which the family says resulted in the collision.

Caleb Byras, 17, of Litchfield, and Kara Brewer, 16, of Rockland, were killed when the Subaru station wagon Byras was driving went off the road and struck a tree on Wotton’s Mill Road in Union about 11:45 p.m. Dec. 5. Byras had been leading a police officer on a chase through Rockport, Hope and Union.

A third passenger, a teenage girl, survived. According to a report, she told police that the car’s speed reached 110 mph.

The amount of money sought is unknown, but it is expected to cover medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and emotional anguish. Medical bills to date total $38,781 for the 16-year-old surviving passenger, the notice states. She also has suffered personal and psychological injuries resulting from the loss of her friend, Kara Brewer, the document says.

Attorney James Clifford of Lewiston is representing Jeri Vitale, who filed the notice of claim, which says it was unreasonable for Rockport Police Officer Craig Cooley to engage in the chase, and alleges that the pursuit violated a number of police practices. Police Chief Mark Kelley is also listed as a defendant because he is responsible for training, supervising and enforcing department policies.

“Officer Cooley was a part-time officer who was forbidden by departmental policies from engaging in high-speed chases,” the notice says.

The town is represented by attorney Edward Benjamin of Drummond Woodsum in Portland. He was out of the office and not available for comment.

The investigative report compiled by Knox County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Paul Spear said speed was the major factor in the crash. There was no alcohol in Byras’ system and medications found in his system were prescribed, according to a medical examiner’s report. Drug involvement is not believed to be a factor in the crash, Spear’s report said.

Another notice of intent to sue names Byras, the town of Rockport, Kelley and Cooley as defendants and is expected to be issued shortly. Benjamin Gideon, attorney for the Brewer family, said his notice will be sent in the next few days.

Gideon said a number of policy provisions adopted by the Rockport Police Department were violated, which indicates negligence. Gideon also said it does not appear the chase had been discontinued, despite what police have said.

Gideon said that officers did not abide by a policy that they not initiate a chase unless a felony crime has been committed, or there is a threatened use of violence.

According to the Maine Chiefs of Police Association model policy approved and signed by Kelley in September 2011, officers should not pursue vehicles for misdemeanor crimes or traffic violations “unless the conditions surrounding the pursuit are conducive to safe operation, management and due regard for the safety of the officer, the public and the person or persons in the vehicle being pursued.”

The association recommends in its best practice standards that only officers who have completed the basic training requirements for full-time officers at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro, which includes an emergency vehicle operations course, should become actively involved in a high-speed pursuit.

Cooley is certified as a part-time police officer with the academy, Maine Criminal Justice Academy Director John Rogers said.

“The infraction was speeding, no major felony was committed,” Gideon said, adding that Cooley should not have pursued the vehicle because he knew who was driving, since he had stopped Byras earlier the same night for speeding.

Cooley had been assigned to administrative duty and removed from the patrol duty roster as of the end of March. Cooley, who splits his time between administrative assistant to Kelley and patrol duty, will now be assigned to solely administrative duties.

Reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext 118 or via email at [email protected]

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