Family of woman killed in crash during MdTA police pursuit sues for $75,000

The family of a Washington woman who was killed in a crash on Interstate 95 in December 2015 after Maryland Transportation Authority Police chased another car onto the highway is suing the state, the police officers and the other driver for more than $75,000 in damages.

The lawsuit, filed last month by family members of Sonjia Johnson-Baker, alleges negligence, gross negligence and wrongful death on the part of the Maryland Transportation Authority, four of its officers, the state transportation department; and Michael R. Brown of Hagerstown, the other driver.

Johnson-Baker and Jason Brian Canter, a passenger in the other car, were killed in the crash in Baltimore County, and four others were injured, including her daughters Rolonda Johnson and Verlonda Johnson-Baker, who are also named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The chase that preceded the crash began about 1:40 p.m., after police tried to make a traffic stop near a convenience store in the 6500 block of Eastern Ave., according to the suit. Brown sped off, weaving between cars, and leading police on a 15-mile chase at speeds of more than 100 mph, the lawsuit claims.

While driving north on I-95, Brown lost control of the car, which crossed the median and entered oncoming traffic, where it struck Johnson-Baker’s car in the southbound lanes near New Forge Road in Baltimore County, the suit says.

The family’s attorney, F. Scott Lucas of D’Amore Personal Injury Law, said he viewed police dashboard camera footage from the chase and noticed at one point that an officer driving more than 130 mph seemed to be losing ground on the suspect.

“They had reason to believe this wasn’t going to end well,” he said. “They should’ve stopped chasing him.”

The police officers’ driving, the lawsuit says, “was consistent with a wanton and reckless disregard for the lives and rights of other human beings.”

Spokespeople for the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Maryland Transportation Authority did not respond to a request for comment.

Brown pleaded guilty to two counts of negligent manslaughter with an automobile and was sentenced to 18 years in prison and two years of probation, according to court records.

Lucas said the “erratic nature of [Brown’s] fleeing,” including near-misses with other cars and driving through a blocked intersection, should have given police pause.

“It’s incumbent upon police officers to say at some point, ‘We’re putting the lives of these innocent motorists at risk.’ and terminate the pursuit,” Lucas said.

Johnson-Baker’s daughters have recovered from surgery and their injuries have mostly healed, he said. Still, both have struggled living with memories of the crash.

“It’s still an open wound for them,” Lucas said. “They’re still in the healing process. They haven’t gotten final closure yet.”

The state has until early next month to submit a response in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

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