Family sues cop, suspect's estate in chase crash that killed sisters
Posted May 21, 2008
Oxford, N.C. — The family of two Granville County girls killed in a December police chase has filed a lawsuit against the Franklinton police officer involved and the estate of the suspect he was chasing.
The complaint, filed last Wednesday by Clinton and Mary Ann Lunsford, claims gross negligence on the part of Officer Michael Dunlap, as well as Franklinton Police Lt. John Green, Chief Ray Gilliam and the town of Franklinton.
The Lunsfords' daughters, Linsay, 18, and Maggie, 9, died Dec. 1, after Guy Christopher Ayscue fled from Dunlap and crashed his car head-on into theirs, the North Carolina Highway Patrol said.
Investigators said Dunlap chased Ayscue at speeds reaching 90 mph in a 55 mph zone. The lawsuit states that he was reached speeds of up to 103 mph during the 15-mile chase from Franklinton to Creedmoor.
That violated Franklinton police policy that pursuits shouldn't exceed 20 mph above the posted speed limit. Dunlap was placed on administrative leave, but returned to patrol work in February.
Ayscue, 38, of Henderson, also died in the crash.
The lawsuit names his estate as a defendant, saying he was also responsible for the Lunsford sisters' deaths, having operated his vehicle "carelessly" and in "wanton disregard" of others on a highway without "due caution."
"Ayscue's negligence was a proximate cause of the deaths of Linsay and Maggie Lunsford," the lawsuit states.
"It was a tragedy that Ayscue was a danger to people on the road," Franklinton town attorney Mitch Styers said. "His actions were the cause of the loss of innocent life. Officer Dunlap was doing his job the best he could."
The Lunsfords' attorney, Gene Edmundson, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
Dunlap was chasing Ayscue when he passed another vehicle in a no-passing zone on a hill and hit the car that Linsay Lunford was driving, investigators said.
She and her sister were going to their father's house after a shopping trip at Wal-Mart.
Linsay Lunsford was a student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she was studying to be a teacher.
Maggie Lunsford was a fourth-grader at Mount Energy Elementary School. She had won a trophy at a karate tournament earlier that day.
Franklinton changing policies
Since December, the Franklinton Police Department has been reviewing its standard operating procedures, including its pursuit policy.
A draft of the policy now includes a set of factors, such as weather and traffic conditions or unfamiliar surroundings, for officers to consider when deciding whether to stop a pursuit. Nowhere does it include the 20-mph policy cited in the Lunsfords' lawsuit.
Larry Carver, interim town manager, said that was eliminated.
"We wanted to create conditions for officers to use good judgment rather than be worried about an arbitrary number," he said.