Sheriff settles lawsuit in chase
By LISA GREENE
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 22, 2001
CLEARWATER -- The crash that ended a police chase and Mary Katherine Shackton Creamer's life took only an instant. The lawsuit that followed took seven years.
Creamer's family and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office have settled for $95,000. But her family says their fight was never about money.
It was about showing that Creamer never should have died that way.
"That was the driving force, to determine there was a wrong that was done by that particular officer on that particular day," said Creamer's brother, Bob Shackton of Clearwater.
In October 1993, a sheriff's deputy tried to stop a Buick with a bad license tag. But 19-year-old Monterio Sampson never heeded the blue lights. He fled, hitting speeds of 80 mph. Deputy Larry Nalvin chased him; but after consulting his supervisor, he slowed down.
Sampson kept going and broadsided Creamer's car as she was turning into the VA Medical Center at Bay Pines. The 48-year-old cardiac nurse died within three hours.
Sampson pleaded guilty in 1994 to manslaughter and other charges related to the crash and was sentenced to 17 years in prison. He was released in December. He could not be reached Wednesday.
The Sheriff's Office cleared Nalvin but changed its pursuit policy. Now deputies only chase suspects wanted in felonies.
Shackton and Creamer's daughter, Kathy Preble, were glad to see the change but say it isn't enough. Law enforcement should pursue fleeing suspects only when the person is a violent felon who's dangerous to the public, Preble said.
"I wish the people making the laws could be in our shoes for just a minute," Preble said. "I know their mentality is that this is for the good of the community; but maybe if it was their family member, they would reconsider."
Other Tampa Bay residents have died in police chases during the past few years. A St. Petersburg High School teacher was killed in 1998 by a man fleeing a Pinellas County sheriff's deputy who saw the man driving erratically. The deputy broke off the chase before the crash at 34th Street and 38th Avenue N.
Last fall, Tampa police chased two teens after the father of one teenager reported his car stolen. When they crashed into another car, both teens and the driver of the other car were killed.
Chief Deputy Jim Coats noted that Tampa police say their chase policy has helped lower car thefts. But Preble said that it scares her that in Tampa police are "chasing for everything."
Preble was 24 when her mother was killed. She has no siblings, and her father already was dead. Since then, she has married and had two daughters. Her mother wasn't at her wedding and will never see the girls.
"As I get older, I miss my mom more and more," she said. "It's been hard."
County attorneys did not return calls Wednesday. They settled the case earlier this month.
Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said people need to remember Nalvin didn't cause the crash. Sampson did.
"The deputy called off the pursuit," she said. "It's the individual who kept going."
The office often reviews its pursuit policy and critiques its pursuits, Coats said.
"We're very satisfied with our current policy," Coats said. "Without that policy, it would reduce our ability to apprehend criminals."
If deputies are pursuing a felony suspect, they must follow other rules, including notifying dispatchers about the chase and the suspect, not having three or more vehicles near the fleeing car and not chasing a car the wrong way up a one-way street or divided highway.
Preble's lawyer, Stephen Segall, said he felt the family deserved more money. But law limits the amount public agencies must pay to plaintiffs without getting a special bill passed by lawmakers.
"The reality of the situation is . . . in this climate, it's not a realistic expectation," he said.
Bob Shackton's wife, Cathy Shackton, is a retired employee of the St. Petersburg Times. She said she hopes the case will prompt law enforcement officers to be more careful about pursuing suspects.
"The officer should stop and think," she said. "Are they placing the public in a far greater danger over a pursuit?"
- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
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