The family of a mother killed in a high-speed Chicago police chase would receive $15 million under a pending settlement approved by a City Council committee Monday, more than two years after her high-profile death sparked revisions to the city’s vehicle pursuit policy.
Guadalupe Francisco-Martinez, a 37-year-old mother of six, died in the June 2020 crash at Irving Park Road and Ashland Avenue when a Chicago police car that was chasing a suspect barreled into her, according to the city’s Law Department counsel Mimi Ruether. Francisco-Martinez’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging wrongdoing on the officer’s part for speeding, blowing a red light and violating Police Department policy on chases.
The full City Council will vote on the settlement this week.
The officer who crashed into Francisco-Martinez was dropped as a defendant in the lawsuit, and a spokesperson said the officer is still employed with the Chicago Police Department.
The crash was followed by a change to the Chicago police general order on emergency vehicle pursuits, although at the time there existed a “balancing test” for when to engage in a car chase.
Meanwhile, the suspect the officer was chasing remains in Cook County Jail and awaits trial for charges including murder in connection to that night, court records said. He will not be liable for any damages in the suit against the city.
“There will be enormous sympathy for the family of (Francisco-Martinez), who endured such a tragic, tragic event,” Ruether said before the Finance Committee unanimously authorized the settlement.
In advocating for the $15 million award, she also pointed out: “The accident involved the Chicago police officer himself; it was not the offender that was involved in the accident, which is going to potentially affect the amount of a settlement and a verdict.”
The series of events that ended in Francisco-Martinez’s death — parts of which were broadcast live on TV after being spotted by a camera-equipped helicopter — began with a first police chase on the South Side. A stolen black Jeep linked to multiple shootings and a homicide was spotted there before it headed north on the Dan Ryan Expressway from 95th Street. Illinois State Police and Chicago police took turns pursuing it as it headed north, at times speeding beyond 110 mph, Ruether said.
Chicago police supervisors ordered officers to stop chasing the Jeep while state troopers took over, and the Jeep crashed by the Kennedy Expressway’s Irving Park Road exit, where the driver was taken into custody. But alleged passenger Marcel Oliver, 22, sprinted out to a gas station at Irving Park and North Pulaski Road, where Ruether said he carjacked the driver of a silver Nissan Rogue.
The officer who later crashed into Francisco-Martinez was sitting nearby in his marked police car with his partner, Ruether said. He turned on the emergency lights and siren and pursued the suspect 3.2 miles down Irving Park to Ashland, with both of them driving on the wrong side the street when near a construction site.
As the two vehicles approached the intersection, the silver Nissan blew past the red light, Ruether said. So did the police vehicle — but it struck Francisco-Martinez, who was heading north on Ashland and had a green light, with “great force,” Ruether said.
The police car was traveling 101 mph right before the crash and 89 mph at the time of impact, Ruether said. Francisco-Martinez was driving about 20 to 27 mph.
Francisco-Martinez was extricated from her car and died in the hospital during surgery. Oliver was arrested about 20 minutes later and charged with first-degree murder, vehicular hijacking, possession of a stolen motor vehicle, and other charges in connection with the chase and crash. He currently is held in Cook County Jail and awaits trial.
Ruether noted that depending on the verdict in the criminal case against Oliver, he could be financially liable, but “he’s not going to be able to pay any amount of it. That’s just the reality of the situation.”
The day after the crash, city leaders offered few details while also vowing a review of police pursuit policies. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she’d become “very concerned about police pursuits” since taking office and that a new policy and training plan were forthcoming.
“The frequency of them, that they cause death, they cause injury, they cause property damage, the whole works,” she said about the chases.
Two months later, the department issued an updated policy that introduced additional restrictions and paperwork in those situations — including requiring the officer “check for traffic” before driving through an intersection. It also upheld the balancing test introduced a year earlier, which calls for officers to evaluate whether the need to apprehend a fleeing suspect outweighs the “inherent danger created by a motor vehicle pursuit.”
Stressing an officer will never be disciplined for ending a vehicle chase, the revised code said: “It is the Chicago Police Department’s goal to ensure Department members consider the need for immediate apprehension of an eluding suspect and the requirement to protect the public from the danger created by eluding offenders.”
In the crash that’s the subject of the settlement, both pursuits were indeed for “very serious offenses,” Ruether said, but it was unlikely a jury would find that the need to apprehend the suspect outweighed the risk of speeding down Irving Park Park at that rate.
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Ruether also shed some light on Francisco-Martinez’s last months. First she lived in Rockford, working the night shift at a factory and then dropping her children off to school in the morning. But she got laid off during the coronavirus pandemic and moved to Chicago to be with her four youngest children: ages 6, 7, 11 and 17. Her husband was in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.
Francisco-Martinez was driving home after working her first night as a dishwasher in a nearby pizzeria when the crash happened, Ruether said.
“Her sister-in-law describes her as being like a single mother whose children were everything,” Ruether said.
Also on Monday, aldermen unanimously approved a $9.05 million settlement to Patrick Prince, who was wrongfully convicted of the 1991 murder and attempted robbery of Edward Porter.
There was also no objection to a $950,000 settlement for Dilan Abreu, a Latino bricklayer with the Department of Water Management who alleged racial abuse from a former supervisor. The supervisor, the son of a former aldermen, was among several water department officials ousted in a scandal over racist and sexist emails, first reported by the Tribune.
The Finance Committee also approved a $900,000 payout to Dwane Rowlett, who was injured after Chicago police shot him on New Year’s Day in 2017. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability ruled the shooting unjustified and moved to fire officer Officer Alex Raske, who resigned first. The shooting was not captured on body cameras or police vehicle cameras. Alds. George Cardenas, Silvana Tabares, Gilbert Villegas, Nicholas Sposato, Anthony Napolitano and Brendan Reilly voted no.Alds. George Cardenas, Silvana Tabares, Gilbert Villegas, Nicholas Sposato, Anthony Napolitano and Brendan Reilly voted no.
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