The family of a then-3-year-old girl who was walking unsupervised across a neighborhood street when she was hit by a Phoenix police cruiser has filed a legal complaint against the city. The claim asks for unspecified damages and states the girl suffered permanent injuries from the August 2016 accident.
Vanessa Andrade was with her two older siblings when she got an ice cream from an ice cream truck in her neighborhood. The little girl began crossing the street in front of the ice cream truck towards her home when the Phoenix police officer was driving past the truck. The patrol car had been parked behind the ice cream truck before the accident and the officer had just finished responding to a call. The girl was hit on the driver's side of the patrol cruiser, according to investigative records.
"(The officer) failed to yield, operated the police cruiser at a speed too fast for conditions and not reasonably prudent, and failed to keep a proper lookout, thereby failing to avoid a foreseeable crash with a child," the complaint, which was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, stated.
A representative for the Phoenix Police Department declined to comment on the complaint.
A Phoenix police investigation that included witness interviews and an accident reconstruction concluded the officer was driving under the posted 25 mph speed limit and violated no laws.
"(The officer) could not have anticipated (the child's) movement when she (the child) ran from behind the ice cream truck which blocked (the officer's) vision of the child," the report states.
One witness told police at the scene he watched the girl "start to run" in front of the car. He was adamant the officer didn't have time to react.
"The officer was already in motion," the witness said. "There was not stopping it. It was going to happen. The officer had no reaction time whatsoever to the situation. The little girl ran directly. She was excited to have her ice cream and ran straight out."
Attorneys pointed out during a news conference last year the ice cream truck had large signs in the back cautioning drivers about children in the vicinity.
Tania Andrade, the mother of the girl, told police she was standing near her doorstep across the street and watched her daughter get hit. According to the complaint, Andrade claims she watched as her daughter looked both ways before crossing "and then started to unpeel her ice cream as she took her first steps, walking at a normal pace" before the police car hit the girl.
Police investigative records suggest a slightly different version given by Andrade to one police officer. The officer wrote that she spoke with Andrade while the girl was still laying on the street and being cared for by first responders.
"Tania was crying loudly and said she had told her daughter not to run out to the street," the report said.
"I stood by with Tania in the waiting room and while there, Tania sponteously uttered, 'I told her not to run out into the street, but the officer suddenly drove away really fast!' Are they going to arrest her for going fast? I was standing at the door and didn't go out with the kids to the ice cream man because I have an element month old (sic) in the house and didn't want to leave my baby alone in the house'," Andrade is quoted saying in the police report.
Former Phoenix Law Enforcement Association leader Dave Kothe reviewed the accident investigative records and told 12 News he believes the city has a strong case to prove the accident was not the officer's fault.
"The police vehicle wasn’t doing anything in violation of the law. There isn’t anything in state statute that stipulates how vehicles should pass around an ice cream truck," Kothe said, who pointed out the 3-year-old was walking across the street unsupervised. "It seems pretty cut and dry that it was an accident. I think this is something that could have happened to anyone who happened to be driving by."