Money will go to estate of man killed in Albany collision in Aug. 2009

by JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST Staff writer, Albany Times Union
Updated and published by the Times Union, 09:18 p.m., Wednesday, June 22, 2011

ALBANY — The estate of man killed two summers ago when the car he was riding in was broadsided by a police cruiser has agreed to a $250,000 settlement, most of it to be paid by the city’s insurance carrier, attorneys in the case said.

The settlement, quietly finalized three months ago, is with the estate of Jamar McGill, the 21-year-old man killed when Officer Christopher Orth drove his patrol car through a red light and slammed into the sedan McGill was riding in at the intersection of Madison Avenue and Quail Street on the night of Aug. 15, 2009.

Orth was speeding to the scene of a panic alarm at the Capital District Psychiatric Center campus, and — according to a subsequent State Police report — drove through the red light with his lights and sirens on, hitting the Honda Civic driven by McGill’s friend, Melissa Escobar.

Troopers laid blame for the crash on both drivers — Escobar for failing to yield to an emergency vehicle and Orth for “failure to drive with reasonable care.”

Police officers are allowed under state law to run red lights, even without lights and sirens, if they do so safely.

Nonetheless, McGill’s estate, administered by his mother, Tanya Carter, put the city on notice of its intent to file a wrongful-death lawsuit.

Settlement talks began almost immediately, according to lawyers for both sides, and the agreement was reached before McGill’s estate ever filed a complaint against the city.

The settlement will cost the city $50,000 out of pocket in the form an insurance deductible, with the remaining $150,000 of its share covered by its automobile-insurance carrier, said Shawn Brousseau, an outside attorney who handled the case for the city.

McGill’s estate will also receive $50,000 from Escobar’s auto-insurance carrier, said George LaMarche III, who represented the family.

“It closes a very sad chapter in their lives,” LaMarche said. “No amount of money is ever going to bring him back, but the family is satisfied that it is over. It doesn’t need to be litigated. And to the extent that they can, they’re going to move on.”

Because the matter was settled by Albany’s insurance carrier, the payment did not go before the city’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment, a five-member panel that approves budget transfers and, by extension, most settlement payments.

Court records indicate the case was discontinued in late February.

“It’s more of a pre-suit settlement,” Brousseau said, adding that the city viewed the case as defensible but also believes the agreement was fair.

Asked whether the city would have argued that Orth’s actions were justified, Brousseau said, “the State Police report speaks for itself.”

At first, whether the siren in Orth’s patrol car was on at the time of the crash was in dispute. Escobar maintained she heard no siren before the impact.

But the State Police report — and recordings of police radio transmissions obtained by the Times Union — reveal a siren audible in the background just moments after impact when Orth called in the crash, strongly suggesting it was on.

Orth, who was not seriously hurt in the wreck, later returned to work.

In a similar case, a State Police cruiser looking for a speeder ran a red light on Washington Avenue in February and broadsided a taxi at the corner of North Allen Street, injuring the taxi driver and his two passengers.

Joseph Granich, an attorney for the cabbie, Michael Zeoli, has notified the state of his intent to sue.
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