Recovering from crash, Middle River family wants changes to police chase policies

A Middle River mother said her 3-year-old son is adjusting to a new way of life after he was seriously injured last week in a Philadelphia crash that has prompted the family to pursue stricter laws surrounding police chases in the Mid-Atlantic.

The Kirts family is recovering after they were injured in the Jan. 9 crash following a police chase that began in Wilmington, Del., and crossed state lines. David Tillman, 3, sustained severe brain injuries, and several other family members suffered broken bones and head trauma.

Now the family is working to raise awareness and urge changes to police chase policies in an effort to prevent similar accidents, said Meghan Stone-Kirts, Tillman’s mother.

The family returned home by train Monday, Stone-Kirts said, after her son was initially treated in Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s intensive care unit. Tillman has a traumatic brain injury that affected the right side of his brain, including 20 to 25 severe brain bleeds, six or seven skull fractures, injuries to four vertebrae, and damage to his vision and hearing, Stone-Kirts said.

Though he is healing at home, she said, his injuries left him legally disabled and he has a 25 percent chance of making a full recovery.

A nurse has been visiting their home to check on Tillman every other day, Stone-Kirts said, and he will begin daily treatment soon at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in East Baltimore.

Stone-Kirts said it’s been challenging for Tillman to adjust to a slower pace. He can’t walk without supervision — let alone run, dance or climb. Although Tillman is still mobile, Stone-Kirts said he has to learn how to move in a new, slower way to avoid further injury. She ordered a special helmet and a walker for the boy.

“It’s been difficult just to tell a kid he can’t play with certain toys,” Stone-Kirts said. “He wants to run and play with his sister and he can’t.”

Tillman and his family were injured after their Chrysler Sebring was involved in an accident with police cruisers a week ago. Police had been pursuing Dejuan Robinson, 20, a person of interest in multiple homicides in Delaware. During the chase, a Wilmington police car collided with a Pennsylvania State Police cruiser on northbound Interstate 95, and both struck the highway’s right barrier, causing the Wilmington police car to roll over, according to Pennsylvania State Police.

Stone-Kirts said the suspect’s car side-swiped her vehicle, taking off the driver’s side mirror. Moments later, she said, six or seven police cruisers slammed into her car.

Police confirmed the Kirts’ car was involved in the crash but could not say how.

A week later, Robinson remained at large, a Philadelphia Police Department spokesman said.

Stone-Kirts launched a petition on Change.org, and is gathering support on Facebook to seek reforms to police chase policies. Her friend, Jennifer Kentfield, has been supporting the cause.

“We need to change some of the ways that the law states police officers can do chases over the lines of the state,” Kentfield said. “They honestly believe that because they’re the police they’re allowed to go over state lines without following certain protocols. Those protocols need to be redone or reevaluated.”

Kentfield said she has not spoken with state legislators in Maryland, Delaware or Pennsylvania about specific reforms.

“Meghan and the family have a lot of support from family and friends, and whatever needs to happen I can guarantee will happen,” Kentfield said. “If it needs to go to [Gov. Larry] Hogan’s office, we will take it to Hogan’s office.”

Meanwhile, Tillman continues to recover. Stone-Kirts said he’s often in pain and struggles with memory loss. Sometimes he doesn’t recognize his parents, she said.

There’s a chance Tillman could recover within a year. But if his skull fractures and brain bleeds don’t heal naturally, his family could consider surgery.

“Surgery is an option, but we don’t want to put him through a surgery if they’re telling us that he’s going to heal on his own,” Stone-Kirts said.

Stone-Kirts and her husband, William Kirts, were also hurt in the crash. She had a fractured shoulder, broken ribs and a concussion, and Kirts suffered from broken ribs, bruised lungs, injuries to his back and neck, and a concussion, she said. Their daughter, Sophia Kirts, who turned 2 on Friday, was unharmed. The family had been traveling to New York to celebrate Sophia’s birthday when the accident occurred.

Since the crash, Stone-Kirts said, her family has had trouble reaching Pennsylvania police to discuss payment of their mounting medical bills.

“They told us at the scene of the accident that they’ll take care of everything — they’ll take care of his medical bills and all this other jazz,” Stone-Kirts said.

Officials with the Pennsylvania State Police and Wilmington Police Department could not be reached for comment Wednesday. A Philadelphia police spokesman said his department was not responsible because the Philadelphia Police Department was not involved in the crash.

The family set up a GoFundMe fundraiser to help cover their medical expenses. They also hired an attorney, Thomas Archer, of Mette, Evans & Woodside in Harrisburg, Pa. Archer said he’s still gathering information about the crash and a complaint has not yet been filed.

smeehan@baltsun.com

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