Fairbanks paying nearly $500,000 to settle police chase suit

Posted: Sunday, August 20, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The city has agreed to pay nearly $500,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit over a 1996 fatal car crash that occurred during a police chase.

The parents of John Weaver, who was killed in the crash, will receive $350,000. John was a passenger in a car struck by a vehicle being chased by Fairbanks police.

His cousin Jason Weaver will get $117,000 to compensate him for injuries sustained in the crash. The settlement also requires the city to spend $30,000 to train officers in high-speed pursuits.

Dan Hickey, the Weavers' attorney, said by phone from his Anchorage office Friday that the family is relieved that the case did not get to court.

''I think they feel that in the end the settlement accomplishes the goals that they thought were important to them,'' he said.

Hickey said the Weavers were concerned about accountability and responsibility for an accident they said should never have happened. He said the family was also adamant that police officers receive additional training.

City officials expressed relief that a settlement was reached.

''I am just glad it has come to a resolution,'' Mayor James Hayes said. ''I regret that (the accident) happened and it was something I personally didn't want to see the city go to court over.''

The settlement stems from a pursuit by Fairbanks police on the evening of July 26, 1996.

Officer Dan Welborn attempted to stop 18-year-old Sean Hill for a stop-sign violation. Hill led Welborn on a five-minute chase that reached speeds in excess of 100 mph. The pursuit ended when Hill ran a red light and collided into the Weavers' station wagon.

Welborn should have called off the chase, according to the family's lawsuit, filed in August 1998.

According to the police department's policy, pursuits are a discretionary call for the officer and the officer's supervisor. But a city council review of the incident concluded that the department didn't completely follow its own guidelines.

Hill pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served a 2 1/2-year jail sentence.

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