Family requests jury trial in case involving trooper who hit man at 76th St.
(May 17, 2019) The family of a man struck and killed by a state police car as he attempted to cross Coastal Highway in October 2017 filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court Tuesday against the Maryland State Police, the State of Maryland and the Town of Ocean City.
Rennae Lawlor of Lewes, Delaware and her sons, Matthew and Sean of New Jersey, seek “in excess of $75,000” from the defendants and have asked for a jury trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
The family alleges that Ocean City resident Thomas Lawlor was the victim of negligent driving by Trooper James Price, also a defendant, when he drove into Lawler at 76th Street on Oct. 6, 2017, during the Endless Summer Cruisin’ classic car and hotrod event.
The lawsuit and a statement released by police shortly after the accident agree that Lawlor was walking east at the 76th Street intersection at about 11:30 p.m. when Price, part of the additional police contingent in town to help control Cruisin’ fans and participants, ran into him as he headed north in a 2016 Ford Explorer.
The accounts of the accident, however, diverge on the circumstances leading up to the moment of impact.
A news release issued by police that week said Lawlor stepped into the path of the oncoming car in the middle lane of the highway, and that Price tried but failed to avoid the collision.
The lawsuit contends that Price was traveling at least 62 mph, or 22 mph over the speed limit, and did not see Lawlor in the road because he was looking down inside his vehicle as he approached the intersection.
The plaintiffs also assert that the car’s emergency flashers and siren were not activated even though Price was speeding to assist another officer, and that Lawlor did not walk into the car’s path, but that Price swerved and hit him.
In addition to filing a wrongful death claim, the Lawlors argue that multiple instances of negligence contributed to the death of the husband and father.
These include allegations that the Town of Ocean City knew the Cruisin’ event was dangerous, but allowed it to proceed in spite of that.
To make that point, the lawsuit quoted City Councilman Dennis Dare, who said of the May Cruisin’ event that year, “Last spring, the event was unacceptable. The lawlessness and carnage was unacceptable.”
It also cited the conclusions of an Ocean City Police Commission “motor event racing matrix” that rated Cruisin’ and the unsanctioned car rally known as H2Oi as the worst for behavior of spectators, level of law enforcement required, desired demographics and pedestrian endangerment.
Although the Ocean City mayor and council began working on plans that summer to rein in vehicular recklessness and unruly behavior by street-side provocateurs, the especially bad tuner car mayhem that occurred in September, a week before Lawlor was killed, injected the effort with a greater sense of urgency.
Even though the H2Oi rally in this area had been cancelled after it lost its venue outside the resort, thousands of enthusiasts descended on Ocean City in protest and wreaked havoc on the streets.
In an Oct. 13 closed session, the City Council agreed on a plan that included the establishment of a special event zone and the possibility of ending the resort’s two Cruisin’ events.
When the council revealed that plan publicly in November, the suggestion that future Cruisin’s might be cancelled was shouted down by the audience. The special event zone measure, with enhanced fines and tougher enforcement of traffic laws, was approved by the General Assembly in 2018.
Rennae Lawlor appeared before the mayor and council that October, a year after the death of her husband, to urge officials to do more to protect the public.