SE Texas Record

Saturday, January 18, 2020

High-speed chase of beer-can chunking four-wheeler constitutes emergency situation, justices rule

By David Yates | Nov 22, 2013

Mckeithen 150x150

For seven miles, a Jasper County deputy pursed a man driving a four-wheeler while he chunked beer cans at the cop car and drove at a high rate of speed without headlights.

When the chase came to an end, the four-wheeler flipped on top of passenger Amanda Lafferty, prompting her to file suit against the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department. 

On Nov. 21 the Texas Ninth District Court of Appeals in Beaumont found that the deputy was responding to an emergency situation, affirming a trial court’s order granting the county governmental immunity and ending Lafferty’s pursuit of the officer who chased her down.

In its motion for summary judgment, Jasper County said that Deputy Louis Berry heard and then observed a four-wheeler without headlights or a license plate being driven north on County Road 725. Deputy Berry activated his emergency lights to initiate a traffic stop, court papers say.

However, the four-wheeler accelerated and proceeded to lead Deputy Berry on a seven-mile chase. According to court documents, the driver allegedly ran a stop sign, turned around multiple times to look at the officer and threw beer cans and a cooler from the vehicle.

The chase ended when the four-wheeler slammed on its brakes, flipped and landed on top of both the driver and Lafferty, who, according to court documents, had screamed at the driver during the entire chase to let her off the vehicle.

The driver, Tommy Shivers, tested at double the legal limit when his blood alcohol level was checked at the hospital, court documents say.

“[W]e conclude that even accepting as true Lafferty’s deposition testimony that Deputy Smith bumped the wheels of the four-wheeler twice, Lafferty failed to produce more than a scintilla of evidence that Deputy Smith acted recklessly or with conscious disregard for the safety of Lafferty or others,” writes Chief Justice Steve McKeithen.

“Therefore, the trial court did not err by concluding that governmental immunity barred Lafferty’s claims and granting summary judgment in favor of Jasper County. Accordingly, we overrule Lafferty’s issues and affirm the trial court’s order granting no-evidence summary judgment in favor of Jasper County.”

Larry Watts of Watts and Associates in Missouri City represents Lafferty.

Houston attorney J. Preston Wrotenbery represents Jasper County.

Appeals case No. 09-13-00039-CV

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