The Indianapolis Star reports that the city and the family of Eric Wells have reached a settlement in Wells’ wrongful death suit. The city has agreed to pay $1.55 million, according to Aaron Wells, father of Eric Wells. City lawyers could not immediately confirm the settlement. Wells, 30, was killed when suspended Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Officer David Bisard drove into Wells’ motorcycle on August, 6, 2010. Two other motorcyclists, Mary Mills and Kurt Weekly, were also injured. They, too, are suing the city. “Does it make you feel better? No,” Wells said. “But any time you can put something behind you in this whole matter helps. We don’t have to be concerned about future court dates and further decisions. It is out of the way.”
The Wells suit was on appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, Wells said. The agreement was signed June 1 and was tentatively agreed to on May 18., according to Wells’ lawyers at Hummel Coan Miller Sage & Rose in Louisville, Ky. “After almost two years, the settlement represents a first step toward achieving some measure of justice for Eric, his wife, and entire family as a result of this tragedy,” said attorney Marvin Coan in a prepared statement. The suit, which was originally field in Marion Superior Court but moved to the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Indiana, alleged gross negligence by Bisard.
The suit alleged that Bisard was intoxicated and driving recklessly at a high speed to a non-emergency he was not even dispatched for, while also using his vehicle computer for non-police business purposes. U.S. District Judge William Lawrence ruled Nov. 18 , 2011, against Bisard’s motion to dismiss the case. Bisard appealed the decision and a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago was to hear arguments May 31.
Background on the Bisard case
At 11:20 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 6, 2010, an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police cruiser driven by Officer David Bisard plowed into a group of four riders on three motorcycles stopped at a red light. One rider was killed, and two others critically injured. A blood test indicated Bisard was drunk and he was initially charged with seven DUI-related felonies. But those chargers were later dropped because the blood test had been mishandled and no other evidence supported the DUI charge.
About the victims:
Indianapolis resident Eric Wells, 30, (left) was fatally injured when the police cruiser driven by Bisard struck his motorcycle from behind, hurling him forward against other vehicles stopped at the light. Wells worked at the U.S. Defense Finance center in Lawrence, as did Mary Mills, 47, and Kurt Weekly, 44, both of Indianapolis, and George Burt, 52, Fishers. The four friends were on their way to lunch when the accident occurred.
Mills and Weekly, who had been on the same motorcycle, were both critically injured. Burt was on his own bike next to the others, but was not hit. None of the riders was wearing a helmet.
Did the motorcyclists follow correct procedures in the accident?
An IMPD report of the accident characterized the motorcyclists as “failing” to move, but traffic safety experts say they did the right thing in staying put.
According to Indiana’s traffic code, when an emergency vehicle is approaching from behind, motorists are to “immediately drive to a position parallel to and as close as possible to the right-hand edge or curb of the highway clear of any intersection.” Burt told The Star the riders were stopped in the left lane of the two-lane road when he heard the siren behind them. Weekly and Mills were on one bike, which was in front and on the left side of the lane. Burt was to the back and on the right side of the lane, and Wells was to the back and on the left. Other motorists were in the right-hand lane. “I heard the sirens coming,” Burt said. “I looked to the left, then to the right, and then back, and I see a cop car coming toward us. We can’t move to the right, because there are cars stopped to the right. We can’t go forward, because there are cars in front of us. What we did, is we stayed put. It’s what we are supposed to do. The only avenue for the cop is the left-turn lane, and that was free.”
About Officer David Bisard:
A nine-year veteran, Bisard received several awards from the department, including a medal of valor for killing a bank robbery suspect who had ambushed him with an AK-47 in April. He recorded more than 800 arrests in nine years with IMPD, according to records. As a member of the Noblesville Police Department in the late 1990s, he received awards two years in a row from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and won commendations four years in a row.
Bisard also was one of the IMPD’s most aggressive officers. Records show his 14 vehicle pursuits were more than any other officer working in Marion County in 2003 and 2004. But in eight years with IMPD, he had five minor on-duty crashes during pursuits.
• July 24, 2002: Bisard struck a fence in the 3300 block of North Baltimore Avenue when a motorist he was chasing jumped out of his car. The police report said Bisard “was forced to veer to the left to avoid striking the subject.”
• Dec. 15, 2003: Bisard slid on a snow bank into a fence while chasing a suspect in the 2900 block of North Illinois Street. According to a report, Bisard “came into contact with a large area of snow that was still on the ground. As he was trying to turn, he lost control of his vehicle and slid into a fence.”
• Jan. 11, 2004: The driver of a car Bisard was chasing opened the driver’s door, and Bisard hit it.
• Sept. 23, 2005: Bisard struck a “small concrete retaining wall” while chasing a suspect in the 3300 block of Forest Manor Avenue.
• Aug. 23, 2007: suspect Bisard was chasing stopped his car, then went into reverse and struck Bisard’s squad car.
Why were DUI charges brought against him and then dropped?
State law requires a blood test of drivers involved in every accident involving a serious injury. Bisard took the test about two hours after the crash, a period that police and lawyers said is normal after an accident. According to an IMPD report, investigators went to Methodist Occupational Health Facility, 1001 S. Eastern Ave., where Bisard was being treated for minor injuries to his arms and to the top of his head, to get a blood draw about 1 p.m. When that sample was later tested, the reading was 0.19. Under Indiana law, a motorist is legally drunk at 0.08.
Police officers who had been at the scene of the accident and in close proximity to Bisard said they had not smelled alcohol on him, nor did he seem drunk. Experts said it would have taken 10 drinks or more to reach a 0.19 level. Based on the blood test, Bisard was charged with multiple felony counts of DUI and DUI resulting in a death. He was roundly condemned and faced significant prison time. But then the charges were suddenly dropped. Prosecutors had learned that the lab tech who drew Bisard’s blood sample was not certified under Indiana’s DUI laws to do such work for a criminal case. Therefore the test results would almost certainly be inadmissible in court.
Charges against Officer Bisard:
Based on the blood-alcohol test Bisard was charged with seven felony counts of drunken driving and reckless homicide. The most serious of those charges was a Class B felony count of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, causing death, with a blood-alcohol content at or above 0.15. A Class B felony carries a penalty of six to 20 years in prison or a $10,000 fine. However, all the DUI-related charges were dropped on Aug. 19 because the blood draw upon the alcohol test was made had not been taken by someone certified to do so in criminal cases. Bisard still faced one of the original charges — reckless homicide — and two new charges of criminal recklessness.
How is this tied to the Hovey Street slaying?
Bisard was one of two officers who first responded to the Hovey Street home where two women and two babies were slain in January 2008. Defense attorneys representing shooting suspect Ronald L. Davis in the death penalty case said they had long questioned whether police were negligent or incompetent in responding to the crime based on a nearly 30-minute delay in the officers’ arrival at the victims’ house on the city’s Near Northside. A court motion filed Sept. 2 said Bisard’s Aug. 6 crash raised new concerns. The lawyers’ aim is to learn whether Bisard has “a long-standing addiction to alcohol” that might have affected his ability to do his job, the motion says. but at least one legal expert said that assertion is a stretch.