Suit blames Westport police roadblock for motorcyclist’s injuries
Police estimated speed shortly before crash at up to 120 m.p.h.
A motorcycle driver who crashed into a town police cruiser at high speed last summer is suing the police officer over the manner in which that cruiser was used as a roadblock.
Derek V. Pereira, 31, of Fall River, formerly of 21 Cleveland Circle, Westport, alleges in the lawsuit and in a prepared statement that a Westport officer set up an “unsafe roadblock” at about 2:10 a.m. on Route 6.
The lawsuit claims that officer Jarrod Levesque, after being notified by a fellow officer of a speeding eastbound motorcycle headed his way, set up a roadblock by blocking most of the two eastbound lanes “so that it was likely to stop the vehicle through a collision. This was an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Mr. Perreira suffered sever injuries as a result of this unconstitutional seizure,” the suit complaints.
Attorney Howard Friedman, who represents Mr. Pereira, also claims that the action violates the town’s own police policy.
“I should not have been speeding. But blocking the road at night with an SUV is dangerous. I’m lucky to be alive,” Mr. Pereira said.
The lawsuit states that the impact left Mr. Pereira with “serious injuries including two collapsed lungs, a punctured lung, damage to his left knee and right shoulder, fractures in his spine, puncture wounds and bruising over much of his body.”
His attorney said that Mr. Pereira spent two weeks in intensive care, suffers continued pain, probably needs knee replacement and other surgery, and already has medical bills of over $100,000.
Town officials said they may not comment on the case since it involves a lawsuit and referred questions to Douglas I. Louison, lawyer for the town’s insurer.
Mr. Louison has been quoted as saying that he believes the officer did nothing wrong and that the crash and injuries were a result of Mr. Pereira’s failure to stop for police officers and traveling at excessive speeds.
Several videos posted to YouTube, one from nearby businesses (Prestige Auto and Amaral Bus Company) and one from the police cruiser’s dash camera, show the moments leading up to the crash.
The dash cam video can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4R-N7nHNc0
Police account of crash
After the incident, Westport detective Jeff Majewski, the department’s information officer, issued a statement saying that a Westport officer “spotted a motorcycle traveling Rte 6 eastbound (near Mid-City Scrap) at a speed on radar to be 76 mph in a posted 50 mph zone. The officer activated his cruiser blue lights and the motorcycle accelerated increasing the distance between the cruiser and the bike … the officer discontinued trying to stop the motorcycle. The first officer (identified later by Det. Majewski as Patrolman Doug Wenson) estimated the motorcycle’s speed at that point to be approximately 120 m.p.h.”
At some point about midway through this stretch of Route 6, Mr. Pereira passed the Cleveland Street house where his father’s house is located and which he lists as his home address, Det. Majewski said.
Beyond a small rise in the road two miles east on Route 6, another Westport officer (later identified by Det. Majewski as Patrolman Jarrod Levesque) “was near the intersection of Rte 6 and Forge Road. The motorcycle struck the police cruiser at a high rate of speed.”
The motorcycle hit the cruiser’s passenger side rear quarter and Mr. Pereira wound up between the motorcycle and cruiser.
Officer Levesque reported that Mr. Pereira tried to stand up and remove his motorcycle helmet and asked if he could smoke a cigarette, Det. Majewski said.
Mr. Pereira was taken to Rhode Island Hospital where he was listed first in critical and later in serious condition with injuries that included broken ribs and two collapsed lungs.
Det. Majewski said at the time that officer Levesque had initially been parked in a gap in the Route 6 median fence, then pulled out into the roadway and turned on his blue lights. Among things to be determined, police said then, is why he pulled out — to see if the fleeing motorcycle was still on Route 6 and headed his way, or to attempt a blockade.
Protocol for setting up blockades calls for officers to first attempt to contact a superior to explain the circumstances.
Either way, it all happened very quickly, Det. Majewski said. Visibility there at the time was around 500 feet. Assuming that the motorcycle was closing in at 100 mph, it would have covered that 500 feet in just a few seconds.
Charges filed against Mr. Pereira included failure to stop for police, operating to endanger, driving an uninsured and unregistered motor vehicle, driving with a license suspended due to failure to pay child support, and speeding. The Kawasaki’s plates were listed to a Warwick, RI resident who said he had lost them three years ago. The bike was last registered to a Coventry, RI, resident.