Wrongful death suit filed against city patrolman

A city police officer charged criminally with vehicular homicide, involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment now faces a wrongful death civil lawsuit filed by the mother of the man he is accused of killing in a fiery crash in January.

Patrolman Jonathan Deprenda, 33, faces charges filed by state police in the death of James David Robinson, 42, who was killed when Deprenda was on a high-speed pursuit to assist another officer and traveling at speeds in excess of 101 mph in a 35 mph zone on East Third Street about 6:52 p.m. Jan. 12, collided with Robinson as he turned left onto Railway Street.

Robinson’s mother, Nancy Robinson Westbrooks, who is executor of Robinson’s estate, seeks unspecified damages in excess of $50,000, alleging negligence and a failure by the Bureau of Police and city to create and enforce policies and procedures relating to the operating of the vehicle during high-speed chases. She also names the county in her legal action.

Deprenda allegedly failed to properly operate and control the vehicle and the department failed to supervise the officer or properly train the officer, according to James J. Waldendberger, Westbrooks’ attorney.

Westbrooks suit alleges her son’s death has caused her pain and suffering and she’s seeking money for funeral expenses, mental anguish, loss of life’s pleasures and emotional distress.

While emergency vehicles have the right to exceed the speed limit state police testified during a preliminary hearing in February that a vehicle data recorder indicated Deprenda slammed on the brakes and hit Robinson’s car while traveling about 88 mph.

Lycoming County District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt said that an operator of an emergency vehicle may exceed the speed limit in some cases, but only if he or she does not endanger life or property and the manner of driving is not reckless or grossly negligent.

The impact caused Robinson’s car to strike a utility pole and fire hydrant before coming to rest against a vacant house, where it burst into flames, trapping him inside.

County judges are likely to recuse themselves, according to Eileen Dgien, deputy court administrator.

Deprenda remains on paid administrative leave earning $26 per hour pending the outcome of an internal investigation. He has filed a motion asking for another county’s judge to dismiss the charges claiming the prosecution and state police did not present evidence at the hearing.