August 26, 2011
Las Vegas Review Journal Article | By Lawrence Mower | ORIGINAL ARTICLE
A District Court jury Friday night awarded $2.2 million to the family of a man killed in a car crash with a Las Vegas police officer in 2007.
The Metropolitan Police Department can appeal the amount. But if the award is not reduced, it will be one of the largest payouts in department history and comes after Clark County commissioners in the past few months approved $2.5 million in separate police settlements.
Attorney Marc Saggese said that the family of Raymond Yeghiazarian is happy with the jury's decision and that they "finally have some closure."
"The jury set it right," Saggese said. "The jury truly is the last line of defense from complete government doing whatever they want, whenever they want.
Yeghiazarian, 47, was injured when officer Jared Wicks, then with the department for 18 months, sped through the intersection of Sahara Avenue and Fort Apache Road about 11 p.m. July 4, 2007.
Yeghiazarian was waiting to make a left turn on a green yield light. He turned in front of Wicks, who was pursuing a white van without his lights and siren on, Saggese said.
Wicks suffered minor injuries in the crash. Yeghiazarian was hospitalized in a coma and died on July 26, 2007.
Experts testified that Wicks was driving between 60 and 75 mph in the 45-mph zone and that he did not slow down before going through the intersection, Saggese said. Wicks did have a green light, and jurors found Yeghiazarian 25 percent at fault for the crash, Saggese said.
A Police Department spokesman did not return calls seeking comment Friday night. Wicks, who is still with the department, could not be reached for comment.
Saggese said he and the family of Yeghiazarian wanted to settle with the department, but the department refused. They then asked the jury for $250,000, and the jury decided to increase that amount, he said.
Two years after the incident, officer James Manor died in a similar crash. In 2009, Manor was speeding to a call without his lights and siren on when a truck driven by Calvin Darling pulled in front of him. An investigation revealed Manor was driving 109 mph in the moments before the crash, and the department paid Darling $120,000.
Two other department officers died that year in car crashes. Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie changed the department's driving policies after the deaths.
This year has been a costly one for the department. In February, a federal jury awarded $2.1 million in damages to a man who alleged three men subjected him to excessive force in 2001. In May, commissioners approved a $1 million settlement to the family of a mentally ill man who died after an officer placed him in a form of choke hold. In July, commissioners approved a $1.5 million settlement to a man wrongfully imprisoned after a lab technician swapped his DNA with another man's.
Saggese said that Wicks testified during the weeklong trial that he had been speeding and he did not have his lights and siren on. The white van was never found after the crash.
Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at email@example.com or 702-383-0440.