The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 1, 2012

Family of victims in New Ulm squad car crash likely to sue

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

NEW ULM —  

A civil lawsuit is in the works involving a mother and son killed last summer in a collision with a New Ulm police squad car.

Driver Myra Meyers, 80, and handicapped son Brian Wichmann, 60, were killed on a July afternoon when their vehicle was struck by a car driven by police officer Matthew Rasmussen.

A grand jury was convened to consider potential criminal charges against the officer but returned no indictments last week after determining there was no probable cause for felony or misdemeanor charges.

However, the State Patrol’s report on the accident, made public this week, has precipitated the civil action.

Twin Cities attorney James Schwebel, representing the family of the deceased, has indicated the speeding squad car’s flasher lights, which witnesses say weren’t on when the crash occurred, may form the basis of the civil action.

Dana Wichmann of Waseca, the brother and son of those killed, said he wants justice to be served.

“I think New Ulm should rethink how they want to be protected and served because I don’t believe you can break the law to enforce the law.”

According to the State Patrol report, Rasmussen was following someone suspected of speeding on a residential street, the squad car traveling an estimated 72 mph.

Myers and her son were approaching from the opposite direction with Myers attempting to make a left turn into a driveway.

The squad car’s brakes were applied and the car was traveling 60 mph  upon impact. The Myers’ car was struck broadside.

The report indicated the officer turned on his car’s flasher lights to move other vehicles out of the way moments earlier in the pursuit, but witnesses said the lights were off when the collision occurred.

Rasmussen told investigators he didn’t recall turning off the lights.

The civil action could hinge on the proposition that once the emergency warning lights were off the officer effectively became a regular motorist subject to traffic laws.

State statute decrees that speed limits don’t apply to emergency vehicles responding to emergency calls.

 But the law also requires that law enforcement vehicles in such situations must have an audible siren or display at least one lighted red light. Further, drivers of emergency vehicles must show regard for others’ safety on the street and are not protected from reckless disregard of that safety.

New Ulm Police Chief Myron Wieland said Wednesday he hadn’t had a chance to review the report so he couldn’t comment on whether departmental sanctions might be brought against Rasmussen.

Wichmann said his brother’s death carries a cruel irony: A car accident rendered him handicapped when he was 3.