Father of Kokomo teen killed in pursuit crash sues police
KOKOMO, Ind. — The father of a 15-year-old boy who was killed in a car crash during a police pursuit is suing two police departments and an officer, alleging that “careless and negligent acts” on their part led directly to his son’s death.
Travis L. Abston Jr. of Battle Ground died in a two-car crash in Kokomo last September during a police chase that followed reports the teen was potentially armed and dangerous, and driving a stolen car.
The lawsuit filed by Travis Abston Sr. in Tippecanoe County alleges that law enforcement is at fault and that his son’s death was avoidable. The suit names as defendants the Kokomo Police Department, the Battle Ground Police Department and its town marshal, Jerry Burk.
It alleges that “careless and negligent acts” on the part of both departments — and specifically Burk — led directly to Travis Abston Jr.’s car crash death.
The complaint contends that Burk falsely told Kokomo police that the teen might have a gun and was possibly planning to carry out a school shooting in Kokomo, prompting that school to close for the day, the Kokomo Tribune reported .
The suit alleges Burk knowingly provided Kokomo police with misinformation about his son. It alleges that after the teen’s father reported his son had stolen his car, Burk visited the father’s Battle Ground home. There, they both looked at the teen’s cellphone, which contained a 2017 picture of the youth holding a firearm, the suit states.
“Senior then emphasized that neither Junior nor Senior possessed or carried any firearms and there were no firearms in the house,” it states. “Moreover, nothing in Junior’s phone indicated he intended to cause harm to anyone that morning or that he intended to carry out an assault at a school.”
Nonetheless, the suit alleges that Burk knowingly falsely reported to Kokomo police that the teen “was or could be in possession of a gun” and was driving to Kokomo possibly to carry out a school shooting.
It also alleges that Kokomo police failed to properly investigate information about the teen before the pursuit and failed to de-escalate the situation “once the pursuit became dangerous and protracted.”
The police pursuit began in Kokomo near the teen’s mother’s home and ended with the crash that the teen dead from blunt force trauma to the head, neck and chest.
An autopsy found that he was high on methamphetamine at the time of the fatal crash.
Beth Copeland, the corporation counsel for the city of Kokomo, said the city has not been served with the lawsuit and “has not had an opportunity to review the allegations.”
Messages seeking comment from Battle Ground police and Burk were left Tuesday with the town’s attorney and the town marshal’s office.