Family of woman killed in police pursuit files wrongful death claim

The family of a woman killed when a man fleeing from police crashed into her car is alleging the city of Long Beach bears at least some responsibility for her death.

Police say they had just started pursuing a stolen van when it slammed into a car holding Jessica Bingaman and six dogs on May 7 at Third Street and Temple Avenue.

Last month, Bingaman’s mother, DonAnn Lawson, filed a wrongful death claim against the city of Long Beach on behalf of Bingaman’s 11-year-old daughter. Such a claim is typically a precursor to a lawsuit.

“The Long Beach Police Department knew the driver who caused the crash because of his previous involvement with the police but pursued him anyway,” the claim alleges.

The claim doesn’t specify what compensation Lawson is seeking. The Long Beach City Attorney’s office declined to comment.

“Any loss of life, regardless of the circumstances is always tragic,” the LBPD said in a statement. “We are fully cooperating with the City Attorney’s Office in the pending litigation.”

There is also an ongoing internal affairs investigation into officers’ decisions and tactics leading up to the crash, according to the department.

Bingaman was a beloved Rose Park resident who owned The Pawtenders dog walking and training business.

Jessie Bingaman, courtesy Pawtenders Memorial.

After her death, friends raised more than $40,000 to set up a pet-rescue fund in her name and a college fund for her daughter.

The man accused of driving the van, 43-year-old Javier Olivarez Jr., has been charged with crimes including murder and multiple counts of animal cruelty, according to court records. Five of the six dogs who’d been in the car with Bingaman died in the crash. He’s pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Olivarez is a gang member who’d previously been arrested 20 times, according to Long Beach police. However, despite the claim’s allegation to the contrary, police previously said they didn’t know who was driving the van before the crash; they only knew it was stolen.

When police should pursue a suspect is a difficult decision that can depend on a host of factors, according to experts.

The LBPD asks its officers to consider 15 different elements—ranging from traffic conditions to the likelihood of catching a driver—before starting to chase a car.

Regardless of whether police make good decisions in pursuits, it can be difficult to sue over them.

As long as California police departments follow certain training standards, they’re immune from any legal liability “even when officers do not follow the vehicle pursuit policy their agency has adopted,” according to a Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury report published in 2017.

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Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his journalism career in 2007 as an intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula News and has worked for The Forum Newsgroup in New York City, the Daily Pilot and the Press-Telegram. He lives in Torrance with his wife, Lindsey, and their two young children.
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