ST. CHARLES COUNTY, MO - The family of an innocent driver killed during a police pursuit in St. Charles County has filed a wrongful death lawsuit. The suit alleges police negligence and questionable handling of reports after the fatal accident.
The family of Krystofer Batsell tells News 11 they feel robbed because he was taken from them suddenly.
"I feel like we got a life sentence that day," said Connie Batsell, Krystofer's mother.
Four months after then 21-year-old Krystofer's death, his family has amended a lawsuit to include St. Charles County, the St. Charles County Police Department, St. Charles County Police Officer Amanda Hopkins, and Aron Richardson, the driver who t-boned the car Krystofer was driving.
According to the lawsuit, on Saturday, November 17, Hopkins pulled over a Dodge Durango she clocked speeding 73 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone on Highway 94. During the traffic stop, Hopkins learned the driver, Richardson, had non-moving violation traffic warrants out of Franklin County with a total bond of $540.
Hopkins decided to arrest Richardson and called for backup, the lawsuit states. After the secondary officer arrived, Richardson sped away from the scene.
Hopkins and the secondary officer initiated a pursuit of the Durango down Hwy. 94. Surveillance footage from businesses along the highway captured the pursuit as the red Durango drives by followed by two police cars with lights flashing. An attorney for the family says the police vehicle sirens were not activated during the pursuit.
The lawsuit alleges during the pursuit, which lasted more than 60 seconds, Richardson and the officers exceeded posted speed limits, failed to obey traffic signals, and drove erratically.
In audio recordings of the police radio exchange provided to News 11 by Grant Boyd, the attorney for the Batsell family, a voice identified as a Shift Supervisor for the police department can be heard ordering the officers to end the pursuit. The lawsuit alleges the secondary unit stopped but Hopkins kept going.
Thirteen seconds after the first order to terminate, a second order to terminate was called over the radio. According to the lawsuit, Hopkins did not stop.
Nine seconds after the second order to terminate the pursuit, the crash was called in to dispatch.
"Aron Richardson t-bones Krystofer Batsell's car at a high rate of speed with the St. Charles County police officer right behind him with her lights still on pursuing him," said Boyd.
The lawsuit states Richardson drove through a red light at the intersection of Hwy. 94 and Cedar Glen Drive crashing into Krystofer's Ford Focus as he was attempting to turn onto Hwy. 94 from Cedar Glen Drive. Krystofer died from injuries he sustained during that collision.
The St. Charles County Police Department Police and Procedures Manual states officers should consider several factors when initiating vehicular pursuits including time of day, the volume of traffic, and location. Officers must also consider the protection of life and property, "which is the primary goal of the St. Charles County Police department;" and when the necessity of immediate apprehension outweighs the level of danger created by the pursuit.
Boyd said Hopkins violated the department's pursuit policy by failing to end the pursuit when directed to do so.
"There's no discretion left to the officer who's in the pursuit," said Boyd. "They have to follow the order.”
During Boyd's investigation of the county's handling of the case, he found the police department's report writing system which shows every modification and draft submitted by each officer. The report for the fatal accident involving Batsell changed several times, but, according to Boyd, the content of the report regarding Richardson's criminal liability did not change much.
"It would seem that it's all changing to modify the potential civil liability of the department," Boyd said.
That is the part of the investigation that concerns Boyd and the Batsell’s most, they say.
"They seem more focused on protecting themselves rather than helping out the innocent people that they may have had a part in killing," said Matthew Batsell, Krystopher's brother.
Krystofer was killed on Matthew's birthday and just days before Thanksgiving. His family said he was returning home that day to have dinner together and celebrate Matthew's birthday.
"It breaks my heart the way he suddenly left us. They way that he had to leave us," said Connie.
The Batsell’s say Krystofer was a music fanatic who also played drums and sang.
"He was more than a brother, he was a bandmate and a best friend," said Kenneth Batsell, Krystofer's youngest brother.
Connie said his love of music started when Krystofer was in junior high and was introduced to the band Kiss. The Batsell brothers bonded over their interest in bands like Primus, Ween, Led Zeppelin, Korn, and Slipknot.
Krystofer formed friendships with other musicians and promoted local and national acts. He often interviewed bands for his website.
The Batsell's say they continue to learn about the impact Krystofer had on the world.
"He lived more in 21 years than I've lived in 48," said Krystofer's father, Ken Batsell.
Boyd says St. Charles County pays about $347,000 each year towards an $8 million insurance policy. The Batsell’s say the lawsuit is not about the money, but they want to hold St. Charles County leaders responsible.
"If they can't find it in themselves to be accountable to their own residents, then who are they accountable to?" asked Boyd.
A spokesperson for St. Charles County issued this statement in response to the lawsuit:
"St. Charles County is aware that there is a motion to bring the County and Officer Hopkins into an existing lawsuit filed by the Batsell family against Aron Richardson.
The County Prosecuting Attorney's Office has filed charges against Aron Richardson in the death of Krystofer Batsell. The County believes Richardson's actions are the sole cause of the death. Richardson is awaiting trial for felony murder in the second degree, resisting arrest by fleeing, possession of a controlled substance and DWI. The focus is on prosecuting Richardson for the crimes the County believes he committed that led to the death of Mr. Batsell."
Boyd said St. Charles County has 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.