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$1.9 Million to Settle with Students Hit by Car Fleeing Police

By Christopher Zoukis

Three 17-year-old students run over by a car fleeing Newark, New Jersey police in a high speed chase have settled a lawsuit brought over injuries resulting from the crash.

Curtis Berry, Jessica Pemberton, Desiree Chester and Crystal Lee were standing on a corner in Newark on July 19, 2001, when a stolen car driven by Dino Whitaker plowed into them. Whitaker had been fleeing Newark police when he ran into the teens.

Crystal Lee was killed, Curtis Berry was paralyzed, and both Jessica Pemberton and Desiree Chester suffered broken bones. Whitaker went to prison for aggravated manslaughter.

Pemberton, Chester, Berry and Berry's mother all sued the City of Newark, the Newark Police Department, and Sammy Blount, who allegedly conspired to have the car that hit the teens stolen. The plaintiffs alleged negligence, negligent supervision and respondeat superior. For reasons that are unclear, Lee's family did not pursue a wrongful death claim as part of this lawsuit.

The city and Blount denied the allegations, and the city claimed that the officers were "following"--not chasing--Whitaker. However, the parties agreed to a global settlement of $3.9 million. Two million went to Berry, $150,000 to Berry's mother, and $150,000 each to Pemberton and Chester. The remaining funds were earmarked for Medicaid liens and legal fees for the plaintiffs' attorneys.

Case: Berry, et al., v. City of Newark, et al., Essex County Superior Court, Case No. L-3060-03 (March 4, 2007)

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Related legal case

Berry, et al., v. City of Newark