June Meng Hong was killed when a San Diego police cruiser slammed into her car (pictured) during a chase in February 1999. A similar accident occurred Wednesday.
The San Diego Police Department maintained media silence Thursday about the details of a serious traffic accident during Wednesday’s pursuit of a robbery suspect.
The incident raises legal issues that echo those surrounding a fatal collision under similar circumstances more than 14 years ago.
Wednesday’s drama started during the noon hour in Tierrasanta, where police say a woman claiming to have a gun held up a teller at a Navy Federal Credit Union branch.
She eventually was arrested in an El Cerritos neighborhood-- but not before a pursuing police cruiser slammed broadside into a van in City Heights and knocked it over.
In the aftermath, several people rushed to the scene, along with officers who broke of their chase, and righted the vehicle.
Firefighters had to use a power saw to rescue the woman behind the wheel.
She was hospitalized and is listed in fair but stable condition. There are no details on her injuries.
One of the officers sustained a wrist injury in the crash.
Meantime, the fugitive from the robbery, 27-year-old Elizabeth Marie Price, was captured a short while later a few miles away.
The accident stirred memories of a fatal burglary chase in Mira Mesa in February 1999, when a police officer ran a red light and crashed into a car driven by June Meng Hong, who died of her injuries.
Later, after a six-day trial and a day of jury deliberations, the city settled a lawsuit filed by her husband for $1.95 million. The police department also reinforced its pursuit and training protocols.
Yesterday, SDPD Lt. Darryl Hoover said Price is subject to charges for injuries stemming from the accident: "When you're committing a felony crime and some other injuries take place, you get charged with the injuries that occurred as a result of that crime."
The veteran plaintiffs' attorney, who handled the June Meng Hong case, says police and the city of San Diego may face civil liability, depending on the facts.
"You have a certain amount of immunity,” Vincent Bartolotta explained in an interview Thursday. “But you have to comply with taking care of safety and have due regard for the rest of the public."
Bartolotta acknowledges that high-speed chases involving presumably armed suspects tend to get officers' adrenaline rushing.
However, he adds: "You are trained to be above that. Yes, you do your best . Yes, you have to go after the bad guy. But you have to do it with training in mind, a clear-headedness that says, 'Okay, this is getting too dangerous...I need to back off. The radio calls are out. We don't want to hurt someone else'."
Officials in the police department and city attorney's office have not responded to NBC 7’s requests for interviews and information about the accident.
The city's outside lawyers in the June Meng Hong case laid blame for the fatal crash on the fleeing suspects.
Their view regarding the decedent: She should have heard the sirens.