Lawsuit filed after crash
SORRENTO - The town is being sued after an accident involving one of its police officers.
Last September, officer James Bell was involved in an accident on Airline Highway inside town limits. The crash happened before the force was dropped by its insurance provider and before the town council cut most funding.
Bell was driving at 100 mph when he collided with another vehicle. There is no record to support he was responding to an emergency. Bell was found at fault for the crash and called "careless" and "inattentive" in an accident report.
"We think that the police officer was just completely out of line traveling like this through our community," attorney Andre Gauthier said. Gauthier is representing the driver and passenger of the car Bell hit. The town of Sorrento and James Bell are being sued for negligence.
Gauthier believes leaders ignored Bell's previous, serious traffic violations. A tracking system installed on his cruiser found, in a two-month span last year, he racked-up 737 speeding infractions.
"Were they asleep at the wheel? Were they simply permitting this type of behavior or are we dealing with just mere incompetence," Gauthier asked.
"They didn't do anything about it. In fact, the day after this incident where my client was involved in this crash with this police officer at 100 miles an hour he was at it again the next morning," Gauthier said.
Bell's cruiser was recorded speeding 23 more times the day after the crash. Of those, only one was inside Sorrento Police jurisdiction.
Mayor Mike Lambert only said the town has insurance to cover these issues, and did not elaborate on the situation.
While the city has coverage, the force does not. It lost its insurance last November because the risk was too great for the provider. But, since this crash happened before the insurance was dropped, it's retroactive and the insurance company is responsible for coverage.
Gauthier would not say how much money he and his clients are seeking.
The wreck is not Bell's first problem. Prior to the crash, more than 100 speeding tickets he issued were tossed because he did not calibrate his radar gun properly.
The Peace Officers Standard and Training council tracks officers employment through their qualifications. POST told WBRZ News 2, Bell has been employed with another department since April but records he filed did not specify which department even though state law requires exact information.
Due to the town council cutting the funding for the department, the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office patrols the town.