Crime & Justice

Pressure continues for answers in LAPD fatal crash

Devin Petelski
Devin Petelski
Courtesy of Christopher Medak

Friends and family of a woman who died after a police cruiser ran into her car plan to gather in Venice for a vigil and march 6:30 p.m. Thursday as an official police report on the crash is expected next week. They will call for an investigation into whether the police car was speeding without lights at the time of the crash.

Police have asserted that the cruiser was responding to an emergency call but was not speeding and that it had its headlights and taillights on.

[Updated at 3:55 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 20] A preliminary report from police investigators who analyzed police car's black box data recorder puts the speed of the police car at 40 to 45 mph when it hit Petelski's car, said Assistant City Attorney Bob Pulone. Testing on the smashed headlights and bulb filaments of the car indicate the headlights were on at the time of the crash, he said.

Pulone said Los Angeles Fire Department records show it took 12 minutes for paramedics to reach the crash scene after the first dispatch call, despite one ambulance being misdirected to the wrong location nearly three miles away.

Devin Petelski, 25, of Brentwood, was driving home from work before midnight Thursday Oct. 15, and was turning right onto Venice Boulevard from Glyndon Avenue. A police cruiser hit the driver side of her car, and left her with fatal injuries. She died two days after the crash.

Christopher Medak, a friend of Petelski’s family, says the LAPD is covering up dangerous driving by its officer. The family has retained an attorney, and has not filed a lawsuit, he said.

Medak's public campaign has a 2,600-member Facebook page called “Plea For help: Devin Petelski was killed by an LAPD squad car using a practice called ‘Silent Running.’” It asks supporters to contact Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl and the city's civilian Police Commission demanding an investigation into the crash and the officer’s driving.

A report on the crash is expected to be made public later this week after it is completed and reviewed by her family, said Det. Jesse Ravega of the LAPD's West Traffic Division. The officers were not using flashing lights and sirens as they headed to assist other officers on a burglary-in-progress call, Ravega said. The officers told investigators that their headlights and tail lights were on as they drove on Venice Blvd., Ravega said.

Photos that Medak collected from witnesses and posted on Facebook show the police car with head and tail lights out and roof lights off immediately after the crash. Medak believes that the police car was speeding without any lights or siren, what he calls "silent running."

"That is not a practice (of the LAPD),' said Ravega, describing lights-off driving as unsafe. "I've never ever heard of it. It was something that was brought up in cyberspace. Someone found a catchy phrase."

Ravega said photos could be shown out of sequence, and would not indicate whether the police officer driving the car turned off the lights and ignition after the crash.

Krysta Ohle, a passenger in a vehicle that had been trailing the police car before the crash said the officer who had been driving turned off the patrol car’s overhead flashing lights when it turned from Lincoln Boulevard onto Venice Boulevard. She said she did not recall whether the car’s head and tail lights were on at that time. After the crash she saw the car had a white light that was either a headlight on the front of the car or a searchlight near a side mirror, she told KPCC.

Assistant City Attorney Robert Pulone said the city did not give much weight to Medak’s claim to have witnesses who said the police car was speeding without lights. He said the crash broke both front headlights on the car and that the city was trying to test them to see if they had been on at the time of the crash.

Pulone said the police on Venice had the right-of-way, and that Petelski had the obligation to wait at the Glyndon Avenue stop sign until the street was clear before turning. He also discounted reports that a bus might have blocked her line of sight, saying the bus driver said the bus had already left the area.

Witnesses complained that it took up to 15 minutes for fire department paramedics to arrive. Ravega said the first paramedics were dispatched to similarly-named Glendon Ave., which is nearly three miles away on Venice from Glyndon.

"They went to Glendon with an E instead of Glyndon with a Y so they had to be redirected," Ravega said.

Despite the late arrival of paramedics, an emergency medical technician who was driving Ohle and who witnessed the crash was assisted by two other officers in giving immediate aid to Petelski, Ravega said.

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