Woman injured during I-5 chase sues county, deputies

EVERETT — Three Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies are being sued by an Everett woman whose arm was nearly ripped off in 2010 when a felon trying to outrun the deputies crashed into her van on I-5.

Tamara Fietkau alleges the deputies disregarded public safety when they chased a car driven by Theodore Ohms onto the freeway during rush hour traffic. The deputies are accused of violating the sheriff’s office pursuit policies and a law that governs police chases. The lawsuit also alleges that the deputies ignored a sergeant’s orders to only pursue Ohms if traffic was light, court papers said. The chase happened during the evening commute.

At one point, the sergeant called off the pursuit for safety reasons, but sheriff’s deputies continued to follow Ohms. They later asked to reengage in the chase as Ohms drove onto Highway 526. That’s where Ohms fired at a sheriff’s deputy.

The officer wasn’t struck, but a bullet hit the patrol car’s undercarriage.

“We just received the complaint on Friday and we still need to review it. We are disappointed a lawsuit has been filed against the county for the actions of the deputies on that day,” said Jason Cummings, the county’s chief civil deputy prosecuting attorney.

The lawsuit alleges the county is responsible for the deputies.

The Everett woman also is suing Ohms. He was sentenced last year to 20 years in prison for the rampage that prompted a massive manhunt that closed down the freeway for hours.

The state Department of Transportation estimated that it cost about $400,000 to have I-5 shut down while police searched for Ohms and cleaned up the wreck on the freeway. A police dog eventually found Ohms hiding in a wooded area in the Beverly Park neighborhood in the central part of Everett.

The incident began when deputy Andy Kahler, driving an unmarked pickup truck, attempted to stop Ohms after noticing that the car had cancelled license plates, according to court records. Ohms was driving his girlfriend’s Volkswagen Jetta. She also is named in the lawsuit.

Ohms raced through a residential neighborhood. Two other deputies, Jim Miner and Jay Ravenscraft joined the pursuit, taking over the lead positions in their marked patrol cars. The chase reached speeds of 80 mph, according to the lawsuit. A sergeant who was monitoring the situation over the police radio called off the pursuit when Ohms turned north on Airport Road, court papers said.

The three deputies slowed but continued to follow Ohms, according to court papers. Ravenscraft asked for permission to pick up the pursuit again as Ohms entered Highway 526.

They were given OK from the sergeant “as long was traffic was light,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed by Everett attorneys Jeffrey Twersky and Glenn Kadish.

Ohms, while still driving, popped up through the open sunroof and pointed a gun at a deputy, according to court papers. At least three shots were fired. Ohms then raced onto northbound I-5.

The day of the incident, Fietkau was on her way home from running errands with her fiance, Kevan Flataker and their two dogs, Sugar and Rookie. Fietkau was driving and Flataker was in the front passenger seat*. The couple was nearing 41st Street.

Ohms zigzagged through traffic and attempted to pass the Everett couple. The fleeing felon hit the guardrail, spun out and hit the van, according to the lawsuit.

The impact of the crash flipped the van on its side. The vehicle slid across three lanes of the freeway.

Fietkau’s left arm was forced out the window and was trapped between the van and the asphalt. Her arm was ripped open. She was raced to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where she stayed for three weeks while doctors repaired her arm.

Flataker also was injured in the crash, according to the lawsuit.

After crashing into the Everett couple, Ohms abandoned the Jetta and approached a pickup that had slowed because of the crash. He jumped in the bed of the truck and asked for a ride. The couple told police they dropped him off at Safeway on Evergreen Way.

Police closed down the freeway and flooded the area with patrol cars, looking for the fugitive.

Ohms had a warrant for his arrest for failing to report to the state Department of Corrections, who was supervising him because of a drug conviction. He had been on community custody for about a year.

He now resides in Monroe, behind bars.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

Correction, May 30, 2012: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified who was driving the van

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