Hearing set in wrongful death suit against State Patrol
Vehicle-pursuit policies of the Colorado State Patrol will be the focus of a hearing in April as a Mesa County judge decides whether a wrongful death lawsuit against the agency can continue.
Chief Judge David Bottger scheduled a four-day hearing starting April 11 in a lawsuit filed by Shea and Sean Lehnen of Collbran. The Lehnens claim a State Patrol trooper’s pursuit was partly to blame for the Nov. 6, 2007, accident on Colorado Highway 65 that injured Shea Lehnen and caused the death of her unborn child.
Shea Lehnen’s minivan was struck head-on by a Jeep driven by 26-year-old Logan Lage, who had a suspended license and was trying to elude a state trooper. Lage was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to child abuse resulting in death, second-degree assault and misdemeanor child abuse.
Bottger last week said Lage has, or will, offer statements from prison in depositions taken in the Lehnen family’s civil lawsuit. The purpose of the April hearing will be to determine whether the lawsuit can go forward as an exception to Colorado’s Governmental Immunity Act, Bottger said. The State Patrol is defended in the lawsuit by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.
The lawsuit centers on a dispute over what happened during the pursuit of Lage by Trooper Jeffrey Vrbas. Vrbas, who was in an unmarked patrol car, clocked Lage’s Jeep speeding westbound on Colorado Highway 330 at 68 mph in a stretch of road posted for 50 mph. Lage ignored the Trooper’s lights and siren.
According to the Lehnen family’s lawsuit, Vrbas told dispatchers some 16 minutes into the pursuit that speeds had reached 100 mph along the winding, mountainous two-lane highway.
The lawsuit alleges Vrbas received permission to attempt a “tactical vehicle intervention,” a maneuver aimed at forcing the Jeep off the roadway. Several attempts were unsuccessful, and the Jeep at one point attempted to swerve at the Trooper’s vehicle, the lawsuit alleges.
Lage was trying to pass a pickup with a trailer in tow when his Jeep collided head-on with Lehnen’s minivan.
The lawsuit alleges the pursuit posed unreasonable risks and was the “proximate cause” of the death of Lehnen’s unborn daughter, Lileigh Lehnen.
“Vrbas’ chase of Lage was unnecessary, as a roadblock could have been set up at the junction of Colorado Highway 65 and Interstate 70,” attorneys said.
The Colorado Attorney General’s Office rejects those claims, arguing the trooper maintained safe speeds for conditions and at no time collided with any other vehicle.
“Vrbas was driving approximately 100 feet behind the Jeep at the time the collision occurred,” reads a response to the lawsuit. “(Vrbas) did not cause the collision of other vehicles.”