The family of a West Virginia 13-year-old who was struck and killed by off-duty deputy demands a jury trial

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The family of a West Virginia 13-year-old who was struck and killed by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy with his marked cruiser last year has filed a civil suit in federal court against the former officer and other county officials.

Police units responds to the scene of an emergency.
[Matt Gush |]
Opal Slone, the mother of Jacqueline “Laney” Hudson, is requesting a jury trial for former Cabell County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeffrey Racer, accusing him of speeding when he struck her daughter in December 2022, among other allegations, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in the U.S. district court serving southern West Virginia.

A state police accident reconstruction expert who responded to the scene could not precisely determine how fast the cruiser was moving when it hit Hudson because its “black box” — which usually records that information — did not activate, according to a special prosecutor assigned to the case who cleared Racer in May of criminal charges.

State police analyzing skid marks and other factors estimated Racer’s speed at between 47 and 55 mph. The posted speed limit is 35 mph.

The suit alleges Racer didn’t have the authority to disregard the posted speed because he was not responding to an emergency call, fire alarm or an “actual or suspected violator of the law.”

“Defendant Racer breached his duty to operate his police cruiser in the same manner as a reasonably prudent law enforcement officer under the same or similar circumstances,” the suit reads.

As a result of his actions, Hudson’s family is “forced to endure and suffer, and continue to endure and suffer, extreme physical, mental, and emotional pain and suffering and pecuniary loss,” the suit says.

Racer, the Cabell County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Chuck Zerkle and the Cabell County Commission are all named as defendants. The Associated Press left a message with the sheriff’s office Wednesday seeking comment. Racer did not have a listed telephone number and could not be reached.

Racer was placed on administrative leave following Hudson’s death and resigned months later.

Special Prosecutor for Cabell County Mark Sorsaia determined in May that Hudson’s death was the “direct result” of her own erratic behavior while under the influence of alcohol and marijuana, which were identified in her system after an autopsy.

Hudson was killed on December 30, 2022 just after 10:30 p.m. in Huntington, where she was hanging out at an intersection with a group of teenagers.

Racer was driving his cruiser after hours because he was staying overnight at his girlfriend’s house and needed it for work in the morning, the prosecutor said.

Racer was driving through a green light at the intersection when Hudson and another teen ran into the roadway, Sorsaia said. He tried to stop, but was unable to avoid hitting Hudson. The other child was not injured. Racer stayed on the scene and called 911, according to the prosecutor.

In Slone’s suit, her attorney argues that Racer failed to render proper aid by not driving her half a mile to the emergency department at St. Mary’s Medical Center. West Virginia statute states that a driver involved in a crash resulting in injury to or death of any person shall render “reasonable assistance, including the carrying, or the making arrangements for the carrying,” of the individual to a medical facility.

Sorsaia said that 49 mph was the median speed in February when law enforcement conducted an hour-long radar survey of 63 vehicles passing through the intersection where Hudson died.

A video taken from Hudson’s phone by state police showed the teens running around in the street by the intersection prior to the crash, he said. Two sobriety tests found “no sign of impairment” in Racer’s case.

In a statement, Slone described her daughter as someone with an infectious smile who loved to sing and dance and “made everyone’s day better.”

“That’s how I remember my girl, singing to the tops of her lungs and dancing like nobody was watching. She laughed like she lived, loud and usually always happy,” Slone said. “She has so many who miss her more than words can say.”