$1.2 million sought from Lynnwood over pursuit death

LYNNWOOD — The Mountlake Terrace mayor is suing the city of Lynnwood on behalf of a friend who was killed in a police pursuit on May 24.

A $1.2 million claim for damages was filed June 25 by attorneys representing the estate of Jerry Bennett, 72. Bennett was struck and killed by a driver who was trying to outmaneuver Lynnwood police.

Mountlake Terrace Mayor Jerry Smith was Bennett’s longtime friend and business colleague. Court papers show Smith, a former police officer, was appointed to administer Bennett’s estate.

The claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, alleges that Lynnwood officers violated department policies while “negligently and recklessly” chasing a wanted driver through town and into Mountlake Terrace. The driver, Shellie Rose Collins, 42, was convicted of murder in July.

The Herald obtained a copy of the claim under state public records laws. City officials declined to comment due to the pending litigation.

Collins was going as fast as 85 mph when she struck Bennett’s van, said Scott Blair, a Seattle attorney representing Bennett’s estate. The claim alleges that Bennett suffered from his injuries for two and a half hours before he died.

The police pursuit should have been called off, because too many people were in danger, Blair said Friday.

“There were all sorts of innocent folks walking down the sidewalks, trying to go through green lights,” he said. “The Lynnwood police, they know full well that when you’re in a crowded environment like that, you have to weigh the possibility of killing someone who’s innocent.”

Smith on Friday said that he does not expect the claim against Lynnwood to affect his work on city business or create a conflict when he deals with Lynnwood officials.

“I’m just staying at arm’s length from the whole thing and letting the attorneys handle it,” he said.

Bennett was a successful builder and developer who also bought and flipped houses, Smith said.

Bennett was born in Canada. He’d lived in the south Snohomish County area about 30 years.

Smith would tear down and rebuild the houses for Bennett. Bennett was well-to-do, kept a big house and often had roommates, Smith said. Bennett took care of people, and often drove his roommates to their medical appointments.

“He was just a real hard worker, a nice guy,” Smith said. “Everybody liked him.”

Prosecutors were unable to find any of Bennett’s family members during the criminal case.

Bennett never married, has no living parents or siblings, and never had children, according to court papers. Bennett’s will named one of his roommates as a beneficiary. The man is suffering from a medical condition and could not handle the estate, court papers show.

Some of Bennett’s cousins also have expressed interest in the estate.

Collins, the driver who struck Bennett, was sentenced to 22 years in prison. She pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Prosecutors charged the case under the theory that Collins caused Bennett’s death while committing another felony: attempting to elude police. She reportedly was high on cocaine and had outstanding warrants for her arrest.

Bennett was driving home about 8 p.m. after visiting his roommate, who was being treated at a nursing home.

The Lynnwood Police Department has an ongoing internal investigation into the pursuit, said Thomas Miller, a lawyer hired by the city to handle questions about the case.

The claim alleges that officers should have stopped the pursuit after several near-misses and as Collins continued to run red lights. The officers also should have been better trained, the claim says.

The crash was one of two fatal police chases in Snohomish County in May.

Bothell police on May 12 chased a convicted felon into downtown Everett. During the chase, Joseph Strange, 33, plowed into Rachael Kamin, a nurse on her way home from work.

The Bothell Police Department’s internal investigation also is ongoing. Strange is scheduled to go on trial for murder later this year.

Reporter Diana Hefley contributed to this story.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449, rking@heraldnet.com.

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