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St. Pete couple sues city over crash involving police officer

ST. PETERSBURG — A woman whose neck was broken two years ago when a police cruiser crashed into her car is suing the city.

Karen and Paul Honsinger are taking their fight to the courts because of the city's lax attitude toward their claims, said their attorney, Tampa lawyer Patrick Dekle.

On Feb. 17, 2012, Karen Honsinger was driving west on 22nd Avenue N near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. when rookie police Officer Brandon Salata, who was ahead of her, made a U-turn.

But shortly after doing so, Salata's cruiser began to fishtail and his cruiser eventually turned 180 degrees across the median and back into the westbound lanes, striking Honsinger's car.

The 35-year-old mother of three was taken by ambulance to Edward White Hospital and required traction to heal.

Shortly after the crash, the couple contacted the city's claims department. Dekle said they got little response. At one point, Dekle said he asked the city for $300,000 to settle the matter.

Late last year, Dekle said, the city came back and said it would pay $3,000, which was the out-of-pocket amount for Karen Honsinger's medical expenses.

"$3,000 for a broken neck?" Dekle said this week in an interview. "It's inadequate."

The couple filed a civil claim Jan. 6. They are seeking damages in excess of $15,000.

Assistant City Attorney Joseph Patner, head of litigation for the city, said he could not comment on pending lawsuits.

He also said he could not talk specifically about the crash.

"Sometimes claims get resolved at the claims stage, sometimes they can't," he said, speaking in general terms.

According to the Honsingers' lawsuit, Salata, who joined the department in 2010, was chasing a vehicle at the time of the crash. Police say that was not the case. In a sworn memo about the crash, Salata said he saw a car run a red light at 22nd Avenue N and turned around to make a traffic stop. He admitted to turning his overhead lights on — then off again when he saw the vehicle slow a couple blocks away.

Witnesses said the officer appeared to lose control on the wet pavement.

Salata's supervisors determined the crash was preventable and gave him an employee notice and two days suspension. He left the department in March 2013.

Dekle said the couple sent the city a notice with all the information about their medical bills and other costs, but heard little.

Karen Honsinger, who had given birth to twins about a month before the accident, has recovered but is "not 100 percent," her attorney said.

Because of the crash, the family had to hire outside help. Students from Eckerd College, where Paul Honsinger is a basketball coach, also volunteered with tasks, Dekle said.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com, (727) 893-8643 or @cornandpotatoes on Twitter.

St. Pete couple sues city over crash involving police officer 01/21/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 11:51pm]
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