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Trooper sued for leaving scene after fatal pursuit

12:40 AM, Feb 1, 2012   |    comments
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The family of a man who was killed in a car crash is suing the Tennessee state trooper who was pursuing the victim before his death.

Kyle Anito, 20, died in a crash on November 26 in North Knox County.  His friends created a Twitter memorial for him after his death containing the hashtag #stArNITOnation, that was spread around the world, even by celebrities.

Now his parents, Tim Anito and Caira Garcia, have filed a $10 million dollar lawsuit against Trooper Charles Van Morgan for his actions the night Anito died.

According to the suit, Anito was speeding on Emory Road when Van Morgan spotted him and began pursuit.  Anito turned on to Andersonville Pike, where he eventually crashed into a tree.

The suit claims that the video in Van Morgan's patrol car shows that the trooper arrived at the scene of the crash seconds after it happened.  The family says Van Morgan observed the wreckage, then drove away, radioing that he had terminated the pursuit.  He did not report the accident or call for help for the driver.  The suit alleges that Van Morgan waited less than half a mile down the road for the accident to be reported, when he responded.

The suit says about six minutes passed before Van Morgan returned to the scene of the accident, where the car was now on fire.  He allegedly got a fire extinguisher out of his trunk and "haphazardly sprayed the fire extinguisher into the air above the car and the flames."

When a citizen and another officer arrive on scene, the suit says Van Morgan told them, "let's get back.. it's over."

10News obtained a DVD copy of the cruiser video, which is attached to this story.  The video does seem to confirm most of the allegations made in the lawsuit. 

You do see the cruiser pass the accident, which is on the right side of the road, though it's difficult to tell the condition of the vehicle.  It does not appear to be on fire.  Van Morgan seems to decelerate briefly, then speed back up.  That is when you hear him radio that he has lost the vehicle and is discontinuing the pursuit.  You see him pull to the side of the road a short time later, where he waits for several minutes until dispatchers radio officers about the accident.  He then pulls back on to the road, and is the first officer to arrive at the wreck. 

You can see the vehicle is now on fire.  As he pulls to a stop, he radios that the car is on fire and tells dispatchers to notify the fire department.  Before he approaches the wreck, he radios that someone is in the car and he can't get to him.  After that, you see him run to the burning car with a fire extinguisher, where he does make an attempt to put out the fire.

The suit also alleges that "this is not the first incident of negligent and/or reckless misconduct by Trooper Van Morgan, nor is it his first pursuit resulting in a fatality.

In March 2010, April Keck died in a car crash after being pursued by Van Morgan.  Knoxville Police investigated, and determined that the pursuit was not the cause of the crash because it had been terminated several minutes before the crash happened.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol confirms that Van Morgan has been recommended for termination, but by law, is allowed minimum due process before action is formally taken. Therefore,  he is on discretionary leave with pay.   They will not comment on whether or not Van Morgan's status is related to this incident.  10News has requested to look at Van Morgan's personnel file, but THP says it will take time for it to be prepared for review.

10News spoke with Trooper Van Morgan, who said he no comment.

The lawsuit also names the Tennessee Highway Patrol and Bill Gibbons, the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety, for declaratory and injunctive relief only.  The suit asks that they "immediately and permanently remove Defendant Van Morgan from any employment by the State of Tennessee as a law enforcement officer."

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