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December 18, 2014

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Civil rights suit filed over fatal Las Vegas police car accident

A new round of litigation alleging civil rights violations is under way over a fatal 2007 accident involving a Las Vegas police patrol car.

Raymond Yeghiazarian, 47, died after his car and a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department vehicle collided in the intersection of Fort Apache Road and Sahara Avenue on July 4, 2007, at 11:04 p.m.

Yeghiazarian’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit, and a Clark County District Court jury last summer awarded the family $2 million in damages, while at the same time finding Yeghiazarian was 25 percent at fault in the wreck.

The Yeghiazarian family’s attorney claimed Metro officer Jared Wicks — who survived the wreck — was at fault because he was driving too fast while chasing a van for a traffic violation without the use of his emergency warning lights or siren.

But Metro Police attorneys said Yeghiazarian caused the accident when he tried to make a left turn in his Toyota Corolla in front of Wicks’ Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor.

District Judge Jerry Wiese reduced the $2 million verdict to $250,000 because of a state law limiting damages against municipalities.

He also awarded the attorney for the Yeghiazarian family, Marc Saggese of the Las Vegas law firm Cristalli and Saggese Ltd., $9,631 in costs and $88,104 in fees based on his billing rate of $400 per hour.

The police department has now appealed the case to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Its attorneys at the Las Vegas law firm Marquis Aurbach Coffing believe Wiese erred by refusing to allow the admission of evidence about Yeghiazarian’s consumption of alcohol before the wreck, “thus substantially affecting LVMPD’s rights at trial.”

They also are arguing Wiese shouldn’t have allowed a certain expert to testify and shouldn’t have awarded attorney’s fees and costs to Yeghiazarian’s attorney.

They also believe Wiese didn’t calculate the damages correctly given the jury finding Yeghiazarian was 25 percent at fault.

Wiese, in his order denying the police department a new trial, said Yeghiazarian’s blood-alcohol level was measured 0.049 percent.

“The defendants had no expert who was going to be able to testify that Mr. Yeghiazarian’s blood-alcohol content was sufficient to have affected his driving abilities or his perception/reaction time,” Wiese wrote in his ruling.

Wiese wrote that the blood-alcohol content information was irrelevant “and that the probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice and confusion of the jury.”

With a state Supreme Court decision on the police appeal likely many months or even years away, Saggese filed a new lawsuit against the police department on Monday, this time in federal court and alleging civil rights violations.

The new suit claims the rights of Yeghiazarian’s widow and the couple’s three children were violated when a Metro investigator purposefully failed to complete a reconstruction of the accident by excluding the pre-braking speed of Wicks and by deleting “valuable” black box data from the police cruiser’s Powertrain Control Module, including its speed prior to the wreck.

The new suit also claims Wicks “failed to disclose truthful and accurate information to investigators by purposefully neglecting to mention his excessive speed” and that Metro investigators altered a witness statement that initially was damaging to Wicks.

The suit further alleges that “crucial evidence” was withheld from Yeghiazarian’s family, including non-disclosure of multiple 9-1-1 calls placed to dispatchers by witnesses reporting the details of the collision.

The police department has not yet responded to the new lawsuit, which seeks more than $7.1 million in damages, including compensatory and punitive damages.

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