Yonkers and its police department are being sued over the devastating car crash that killed four city teenagers only a few days before Christmas in 2020.
At least three families of the Yonkers teenagers whose lives were cut short are blaming Yonkers police for the horrific crash that occurred when Mount Vernon resident Devon Haywood’s car struck the 2006 Nissan the four young men were in.
The 18-year-olds killed were Brandon Sierra, Randy Brisbane, Tamari Watkins and Anthony Cruz. They had just graduated from Saunders Trades and Technical High School the previous spring.
Their sudden deaths devastated the city.
In separate legal actions filed in state Supreme Court this month, the three plaintiffs argue Yonkers police mishandled the pursuit of Haywood, who was attempting to evade officers on Riverdale Avenue after they tried pulling him over for erratic driving.
Haywood, 36, also died in the Dec. 22, 2020 crash.
The Journal News has confirmed the families of Watkins, Cruz and Sierra have filed legal actions.
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The day after the incident, Yonkers police stated officers were not engaged in a high speed chase. Detective Lieutenant Dean Politopoulos, the department’s public information officer, said at the time officers chose to disengage and “did not pursue to avoid this exact type of outcome.”
The police car was about 15 seconds behind Haywood’s white 2009 Infiniti sedan and was not in emergency mode, according to Politopoulos.
The lawsuit brought forward by Kathy Burgos, mother of Cruz, argues the police department did not ensure the proper use of warning equipment like sirens, horns and lights and the department did not properly instruct its officers to appropriately follow Haywood’s vehicle.
“It was the duty of the defendants (to) … direct police officers and/or personnel in the proper, appropriate and required care, precautions and conduct to be exercise in attempting to follow, chase, and/or apprehend a vehicle,” that lawsuit states.
The lawsuit brought forward by Darlene Reynolds, mother of Watkins, accuses Yonkers of initiating a high speed chase “which was unduly dangerous under circumstances” that led to the accident.
An attorney for Reynolds, Leigh Eskenasi, said, he wants to get to the “bottom of what happened to give the families some peace of mind.”
And in the lawsuit brought forward by Rina Patricia Sierra, it claimed the police department’s actions increased the risk of danger to the public.
Nicholas Timko, an attorney representing Sierra’s estate, said his client is looking forward to getting discovery during the litigation “so that all of the families can learn exactly what the police were doing at the time that led to this terrible collision and the death of all these young people.”
A City Hall spokesperson declined comment on pending litigation. Politopoulos, on behalf of the police, also declined comment on the lawsuits. But he called the collision an “extremely horrible tragic incident.”
“Our hearts break for those families,” he said in an email.
Keith Taylor, an adjunct professor of the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College, said urban police departments have moved away from engaging in high speed pursuits over the last 30 years.
There are multiple factors that determine whether an officer would be directed to continue a car chase, including the the level of alleged criminality, time of day, the weather, if they are familiar with the area and how densely populated it is.
“There’s a lot of emphasis in police department to engage in vehicle pursuits only when absolutely necessary,” said Taylor, a former supervisor for the NYPD and former assistant commissioner for the city’s corrections department. “And there’s a lot of focus on supervisory command and control of what’s going on during a pursuit.”
Police said at the time Haywood had a history of reckless driving. He also faced federal and state charges over the past 17 years for drug and weapons charges, according to previous reporting by The Journal News.
David Propper covers Westchester County. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: dg_props. Our local coverage is only possible with support from our readers.