Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Politics

Claims bill for injured Pasco woman filed in Tallahassee

For the third time in as many legislative sessions, a claims bill has been filed for a New Port Richey woman severely injured by a Pasco County deputy.

In early 2005, Pasco Deputy Kenneth Petrillo's patrol car collided with Jennifer Wohlgemuth's Honda Accord as Petrillo was chasing a suspected drunken driver. His lights and sirens were not on. Wohlgemuth, then 21, suffered a brain injury and was left unable to care for herself.

In 2009, a judge ruled that Petrillo was negligent in the crash and that Wohlgemuth should receive $9.14 million in damages. But state law limits such judgments against law enforcement agencies; to get the rest, parties have to petition the Legislature in the form of a claims bill.

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, filed one for this session on March 4. A previous version of the bill was approved in 2012 by the Senate, 35-5, but no one championed the cause in the House. A bill was introduced in both the House and the Senate last year but died in committee.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, previously said he would meet with the family before the 2013 legislative session. On Friday, he said the family has not asked to meet with him, but he called the case tragic and painful for Wohlgemuth and her family.

"This year," he said, "we stand ready to work with the Senate on claims bills where there is local agreement."

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has openly opposed claims bills.

"Generally, he feel that the success or failure of claims bills depends more on the lobbyist and less on the subject matter," said Katie Betta, Gaetz's spokeswoman.

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