NEW PORT RICHEY — The family of Henry McCain, a 67-year-old motorcyclist killed by a suspect during a high-speed pursuit, has reached a settlement with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office for $175,000.
"You have an innocent victim who has passed away," said Jeremiah Hawkes, chief of the management services bureau at the Sheriff's Office.
Just after 7 a.m. on May 10, 2011, deputies found a drug-addicted, 21-year-old exotic dancer named Brittany Miles passed out behind the wheel of her pickup on U.S. 19 in Hudson, authorities said. During the DUI stop, Miles managed to escape a deputy's cruiser by slipping one hand out of her handcuffs and reaching through a window left rolled down, authorities said. Miles ran to her pickup and screeched out onto U.S. 19, with Pasco Deputy Ashley Grady clinging onto the side of the truck, trying to get Miles to stop. At more than 70 mph, Miles flung Grady off the truck and sent the deputy rolling onto the highway, authorities said. Grady suffered a broken leg and later was suspended for five days without pay for violating agency regulations.
Miles barreled north on U.S. 19, and at County Line Road she rammed into McCain, a husband and grandfather. A toxicology report said Miles had oxycodone and alprazolam, the generic form of Xanax, in her system. She also told a deputy she'd consumed seven alcoholic drinks before she was pulled over.
Because the pursuit spanned two counties, there are two sets of criminal cases winding their way through the court system. Miles faces first-degree murder and other charges in Hernando, as well as attempted murder and other charges in Pasco.
McCain's family did not file a lawsuit against the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, but their attorney contacted the agency to work out a settlement. Under Florida law, a government agency's liability is limited to $200,000 unless the Legislature specifically authorizes a larger amount.
"I think it's good for all concerned that it has settled," said Hawkes, noting the agency's legal fees could have exceeded $100,000 if there had been a lawsuit that went to trial.
McCain's family and their attorney did not return calls Thursday. In previous interviews, however, McCain's widow, Anita McCain, said she wanted answers: "We believe really strongly this shouldn't have happened."
The couple's daughter, Kellie McCain, told the Times last year that the Sheriff's Office should have called off its pursuit of Miles.
"High-speed chases kill people," Kellie McCain said, "and that's what happened."
Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said the settlement is not an indicator that the agency did anything wrong. "We did the right thing," Nocco said.
At the time of the incident, the Sheriff's Office policy left pursuits up to the discretion of the deputy. Examples of accepted reasons for pursuits were an "incident involving imminent death or serious injury" and "a felony in progress."
Weeks after Miles' escape and McCain's death, the agency revised its policy. The pursuit remains up to the deputy's discretion, but the policy says the chase should only take place when "the danger to the public, the deputies involved and the occupants of the fleeing vehicle, that is created by the pursuit, is significantly less than the immediate or potential danger to the public, should the suspect remain at large."
Under either policy, letting Miles go would be a difficult call, said Robert J. Diemer, the director of graduate studies in criminal justice for Saint Leo University and a retired law enforcement officer. He noted Miles was an escaped prisoner who tried to kill a deputy, and that she was intoxicated and speeding.
"If the officer didn't pursue and she wound up killing someone, the question would have been, 'Why didn't they pursue her?' " Diemer said. "It's a no-win situation."
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.