A wrongful death lawsuit filed Monday by the family of a teenager who was killed in a wreck on Interstate 435 says an off-duty Kansas City police officer was speeding when the police van he was driving slammed into the rear of their car.
The lawsuit was filed in Jackson County Circuit Court against Terrell Watkins, who was driving to an off-duty security assignment at Arrowhead Stadium when he rear-ended the car in heavy pregame traffic.
Watkins is not identified in the lawsuit as a Kansas City police officer, but Police Department officials have previously said that one of their officers was involved in the fatal wreck. The Police Department has not released the officer’s name.
The Oct. 21 wreck killed 17-year-old Chandan Rajanna, a Shawnee Mission South senior, and severely injured his father and sister.
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Two more lawsuits were filed Monday on behalf of the father, Krishna Rajanna, and the sister, Lisa Allen.
The three lawsuits accuse Watkins of negligence, driving too fast, failing to watch the road properly, following too closely and failing to brake in time to avoid hitting the Rajanna family’s car.
The impact pushed the family’s Mitsubishi Lancer into another vehicle and then into a guardrail. Chandan Rajanna suffered severe injuries that killed him, the lawsuit said.
“The Rajanna family lost a beloved and bright son, brother and friend,” said David R. Morantz, the family’s attorney. “In addition to continuing to mourn Chandan’s passing, the family is also caring for serious injuries to Chandan’s father and sister.”
“We are anxious to learn more about what Mr. Watkins was doing, where he was driving, and at whose direction he was working at the time of the collision. Court-governed formal discovery and continued investigation should produce answers to these questions,” Morantz said.
Watkins, who has been with the Police Department for six years, could not be reached for comment on Monday.
The wreck remains under investigation by the Kansas City Police Department. The Missouri Highway Patrol was also brought in to monitor the investigation.
The Police Department and the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners are not named in the lawsuits.
On the day of the wreck, Lisa Allen was in town for her high school reunion, according to the lawsuit. Chandan was driving Allen and their father Krishna Rajanna to a Kansas City Chiefs football game, where they planned to join other relatives at the stadium.
The family vehicle was northbound on Interstate 435 near Stadium Drive when they got stuck in traffic.
Watkins approached them from behind, in a Police Department van.
The weather was dry and clear, the road straight and tilted downward, on that stretch of I-435, according to a crash report produced by the Police Department.
Several witnesses reported seeing the van hurtling down the interstate toward the stopped cars, traveling at speeds variously estimated from 50 to 70 mph.A witness noted the van’s brake lights went on about two car lengths from the vehicles stopped ahead. Another witness said the van was 20 or 30 feet away when it “locked up the brakes.”
The van hit the Rajanna’s car from behind, causing a chain reaction that also impacted two other vehicles.
The crash left Chandan’s Mitsubishi with “total damage to its entirety,” the report says.
Chandan died at the scene. His sister Lisa Allen suffered a severe brain injury. His father, Krishna Rajanna suffered numerous fractures and remains hospitalized.
The police van sustained “heavy front end damage.”
For more than two weeks, the Police Department did not release a report from the wreck. It did so after The Star published a story noting the delay.
Watkins had been assigned to the Police Athletic League, where he works as a coach and youth mentor.
A police spokesman said the officer has not returned to work since the wreck. The Police Department has not said what the officer’s assignment that day at the stadium.