Widow of man killed during high speed police chase files suit

James Williford
James Williford

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The widow of a man killed when a stolen truck smashed into him is now suing the City of Austin, Nordstrom, Simon Properties and the man behind the wheel of the stolen vehicle.

James Williford, 32, was killed when Reynaldo Victor Hernandez Jr. plowed into his car with a stolen Ford F-250 at the intersection of Ben White Boulevard and Pack Saddle Pass in June 2012. Hernandez was convicted of murder last year by a Travis County jury.

“It’s just so different without him here,” said Seoanes, Williford’s widow. She sat down with KXAN after filing the lawsuit.

“Nordstrom’s security allowed Hernandez to steal the truck from the Barton Creek Mall parking lot after watching him commit credit card fraud, and burglarize cars at the mall for over an hour,” the lawsuit says.

After being called by the store and Simon Properties, Austin police chased Hernandez down Capital of Texas Highway, “weaving in and out of heavy afternoon traffic, through red lights, at speeds near 100 mph,” according to the lawsuit.

Seoanes is filing the suit to “remedy the injustice she and her husband suffered, and so that no more innocent people die in police chases.”

The lawsuit is seeking more than a $1 million, and asking for a change in APDs pursuit policy.

“The conduct of officers Sargent and Horn was not only negligent but also rose to the level of reckless disregard for the safety of others, because they knew or should have known that initiating and continuing the high-speed chase of Mr. Hernandez posed a high degree of risk of serious injury to others,” the lawsuit says. “In pursuing Mr. Hernandez, officers Sargent and Horn failed to drive with appropriate regard for the safety of all persons. Specifically, their conduct constituted reckless disregard for the safety of others as defined by Texas law because they knew or should have known that their conduct posed a high degree of risk of serious injury to others.”

Williford was hit by the speeding stolen truck as it ran a red light. Witnesses say the impact caused other vehicles in the area to shake, and that Williford’s vehicle spun up into the air on impact.

APDs pursuit policy is discretionary and states: “Officers are authorized to initiate a pursuit when it is reasonable to believe that a subject is attempting to evade arrest or detention by fleeing in a vehicle.”

Seoanes wants the policy changed to emulate what other departments, like Dallas, do. Those departments limit high speed pursuits to felony crimes or violent offenders. Property theft is not an offense that warrants a high speed chase under that sort of policy.

“He was that bubbly person who always made me laugh,” Seoanes said. “It’s just really hard without him.”

Jeff Kelly, lead attorney, says he’s seeking damages include to cover:
a) funeral and burial expenses;
b) loss of future wages and earnings, and/or loss of services; and
c) physical pain and mental anguish suffered by James Williford before he died.

And, injuries occurring to Esther Seoanes Williford:
a) past and future mental anguish;
b) the past and future loss of the companionship, society and services of her husband, James Williford; and
c) loss of wages/earning capacity, and/or loss of services.

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