Metro-East News

Mother of girl hit by cop’s car sues O’Fallon PD, retired captain

It happened so fast that all he could remember was slamming on his brakes and that the girl he saw in front of his car that night was holding bright-colored flip-flops in her hand.

Almost a year to the day after Asia Graham was struck by the car of off-duty O’Fallon Police Capt. Reginald “Mick” Hunter, who was headed to his mother’s house after a charity event in O’Fallon, the girl’s mother has filed suit in St. Clair County Court against Hunter and the department that employed him. Catherine Barrows’ suit seeks an unspecified amount in damages and claims Hunter was negligent because he failed to keep a proper lookout for Graham, did not brake in order to avoid striking her, was speeding at the time of the crash, was using his cell phone and did not yield to Graham.

At 8 p.m. on Sept. 19, 2015, off-duty O’Fallon Police Capt. Reginald “Mick” Hunter was driving on North Illinois Street in Swansea when he saw 16-year-old Asia Graham in the road in front of him. He slammed on his brakes but couldn’t stop in time.

At 8 p.m. on Sept. 19, 2014, Graham and three other juveniles were standing near the southwest corner of North Illinois Street and Beau Gon Drive in Swansea when Graham stepped into North Illinois Street and was struck by the unmarked Dodge Charger that was southbound in the median lane.

Graham, now 17, suffered severe trauma to her head and body as a result of the collision. She was initially transported to Memorial Hospital in Belleville and then flown to Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. Barrows told the News-Democrat in September that her daughter suffered permanent brain damage.

Barrows declined to comment for this story. Her attorney Eric Rhein could not be reached.

O’Fallon Police Chief Eric Van Hook referred comments to attorney Brian Funk, who could not be reached.

No time to stop

Witness statements and evidence collected by Swansea Police contradict the claims Barrows makes in her suit.

According to reports filed by the Swansea Police officers who investigated the crash, the drivers of two cars traveling south on North Illinois street near Hunter witnessed the crash and said there was no way he could have stopped in time to avoid hitting Graham because she ran out into the street so suddenly.

Hunter told police he slammed on his brakes. One of the other nearby drivers also told police he heard Hunter’s tires squealing on the pavement.

Witness statements to police and evidence gathered during the crash investigation contradict Barrows’ claims that Hunter was speeding and using his cell phone at the time his car struck Asia Graham.

An officer who spoke with the three juveniles who were with Graham that night wrote in his report that all three said they saw Graham continue into the street even though the group had stopped. The officer also noted that there was no cross-walk and no stop lights at that intersection.

State law requires pedestrians to yield to all traffic before crossing a street that does not have a cross-walk.

Cell phone speculation

One of the drivers who saw the crash told Swansea Police in a follow-up interview that she saw Hunter using his cell phone through the open passenger window as he turned onto North Illinois Street.

But an onlooker who arrived to the scene shortly after the crash told police no one there mentioned anything about a cell phone until well after the collision, when the group was speculating about what caused the crash. Swansea Police who canvassed nearby businesses in search of security camera footage found footage from a bank at the corner of Frank Scott Parkway and North Illinois Street that showed Hunter’s passenger side window was up.

Cell phone records provided by Hunter, O’Fallon Police and Verizon show Hunter sent a text message to his mother six minutes before the crash and didn’t use it again until he called 911 twice at 8 p.m.

Cleared

O’Fallon Police were quick to order an internal review of the incident. Hunter provided a blood and urine sample and, on Oct. 9, 2014, the Illinois State Police Division of Forensic Services reported that no drugs or alcohol had been detected in Hunter’s blood and urine.

An Illinois State Police accident-reconstruction team also investigated the crash and reported on Jan. 22, 2015, that Hunter had not violated any traffic laws. The team concluded Hunter was traveling no faster than 41 miles per hour in the 45-mile-per-hour zone at the time of the crash.

Swansea’s police chief at the time, Mike Arnold, closed the case on Jan. 26.

Tobias Wall: 618-239-2501, @Wall_BND

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