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Brownville woman sues police agencies over high-speed pursuit crash

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A Brownville woman injured when a high-speed police pursuit ended in a crash that killed another woman has filed legal action against the officer involved in the chase, as well as three villages and their police departments.

Autumn Tharrett filed state Supreme Court action Thursday at the Jefferson County clerk’s office against Glen Park and its police chief, Larry M. Jobson, as well as against the villages of Brownville and Dexter and their police departments.

Miss Tharrett was a passenger Oct. 3, 2011, in a vehicle driven by off-duty Watertown police Officer William K. Rafferty when it was struck by a vehicle operated by Francis T. “Terry” Morgia at routes 12 and 342 in the town of Pamelia. The crash killed Mr. Rafferty’s mother, Shirley H. Hammond, 75, and injured Mrs. Hammond’s other son, Jeffrey C. Hammond, in addition to injuring Miss Tharrett, an off-duty Syracuse police officer.

The crash occurred after police had been alerted to an elderly woman being robbed of her purse at the Kohl’s department store in the town of Watertown. The pursuit began when Mr. Jobson observed the suspect vehicle in Glen Park and attempted to halt it. The driver, Morgia, failed to stop and continued to West Main and Bradley streets before proceeding out of Watertown on Route 12 at speeds of up to 120 mph, with Mr. Jobson in pursuit at speeds alleged in the suit to be in excess of 80 mph.

According to the suit, Miss Tharrett suffered severe and permanent injuries in the crash, including traumatic brain injury, paralysis of her forehead and eyebrows, scarring to her forehead and top of her head, persistent headaches and memory loss. It is claimed that she has also lost enjoyment of her life and has a diminished earning capacity and a potentially shortened work life.

It is alleged in the action that Mr. Jobson, a 25-year veteran of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department who retired in 2008 as undersheriff, was negligent by displaying a “reckless disregard for the safety of others” by engaging in the pursuit and that his actions were “in violation of accepted policies and procedures regarding police pursuits” and were unwarranted under the circumstances.

The villages and their police departments are alleged to have been negligent by failing to have written pursuit policies in place for their officers and by failing to train them in pursuit techniques, among other reasons.

According to the suit, Mr. Jobson is a police officer in each of the villages, and Miss Tharrett’s attorney, Kevin P. Keuhner, Syracuse, has not determined under which municipality’s auspices Mr. Jobson was working at the time of the crash.

Mr. Keuhner could not be reached for further comment Thursday. Glen Park’s municipal attorney, Dennis G. Whelpley, Watertown, said he was unable to comment on the suit because it had not yet been served on the village. The suit does not specify an amount being sought in damages.

Morgia pleaded guilty May 15 in County Court to second-degree murder in connection with Mrs. Hammond’s death, admitting that he was under the influence of cocaine at the time of the crash. He also pleaded guilty to 10 other charges, including counts related to multiple purse-snatchings, and was sentenced June 25 to 18 years in state prison.

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