A Florida Highway Patrol trooper drove 150 feet onto a DeLand-area front lawn and accidentally ran over and killed a 22-year-old woman.
On a night to celebrate a new beginning, 22-year-old Amy Kuehn was excited to ride in her father's new red Mustang convertible.
Kuehn had been out with her father that summer night in 2017 celebrating her move from Texas. She was moving in with her father in DeLand until she could get her own place and start her new future. Kuehn was going to work as a server at a Waffle House and continue studying American Sign Language, perhaps at Daytona State College, so she could work with the deaf.
But that was later. For now, father and daughter were heading home, north on North Kepler Road at 1 a.m. July 15, the open sky above them and the wind around them.
Also on that stretch of road were a couple of Florida Highway Patrol troopers. Two headlights zipped past Trooper Andrew Nunez’s southbound patrol car. The trooper's radar clocked the Mustang at 71 mph in a 45. Nunez made a U-turn, accelerated and turned on his emergency lights. Following right behind Nunez was his backup, Trooper Cameron Joseph, in a black and tan FHP Dodge Charger.
Amy's father, Aaron Kuehn, saw the blue lights, turned onto a side street and slowed the Mustang in the street in front of a home on Lake Charles Road.
As he came to a stop, Amy Kuehn rose off her seat and leaped out of the convertible.
Then she ran.
Nunez stopped his patrol car behind the Mustang and yelled “Hey, hey!” at the running woman.
Then Nunez exclaimed, “Oh my God!”
While Amy Kuehn was sprinting across the grass, the trooper in the second patrol car, Joseph, drove his FHP Dodge Charger off Lake Charles Road, across a lawn, then a driveway and more grass.
Then Amy Kuehn slipped and the 4,312-pound patrol car ran over her. The young woman, fatally injured and bleeding from her head, lay on the grass behind the car's glowing red taillights.
Now, two years later, the case has led to a wrongful death lawsuit against FHP and the two troopers, who have since left the agency.
Amy Kuehn ran because she suffered from mental disabilities, including paranoia, according to the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Daytona Beach attorney Kelly Chanfrau on behalf of the woman’s grandfather, Jack Kuehn. The flashing emergency lights on the FHP patrol car scared her and caused her to flee before the second patrol car drove nearly 153 feet — about 10 car lengths — off the road and ran her over, according to the lawsuit.
Joseph violated the agency’s own pursuit policy and used excessive force, Kelly Chanfrau said in an interview. “You are not allowed to seize a pedestrian with your car by running them over.”
No crimes prosecuted
And Amy Kuehn had not committed any crime.
“She was a pedestrian who had not done anything wrong,” Chanfrau said.
The FHP investigated its own accident, which spokeswoman Lt. Kim Montes said is standard procedure although the agency brings in a special team dedicated to serious cases. Troopers from outside the area investigate so they are not familiar with the trooper involved in the accident, Montes said.
FHP supervisors on the scene allowed Joseph to drive his patrol car home even though it had been involved in a traffic fatality because they said it had not been damaged. But afterward the car was impounded.
The FHP traffic homicide report said that Amy Kuehn was "grossly impaired on alcohol" at the time of the accident. The report cited records from Halifax Health Medical Center which stated that Amy Kuehn had a blood alcohol level of 0.31. Amy Kuehn was not driving but for reference that alcohol reading is nearly four times the legal limit of 0.08 at which a person is considered legally intoxicated for operating a car.
The investigation resulted in Joseph, who was chasing her at "nearly 20 mile per hour," being issued a traffic citation for failure to use due care toward a pedestrian, according to records and the lawsuit. Joseph pleaded not guilty and the charge was dismissed on Sept. 7, 2018, by Volusia County Judge Christopher Kelly after a hearing. Joseph did not attend the hearing but his defense attorney did, according to records.
The charge against the trooper was dismissed because the judge ruled that FHP did not have jurisdiction to issue a traffic citation on private property, the resident's lawn, Chanfrau said. Deputies responded but issued no citations for the accident which happened in an unincorporated area of Volusia County.
Volusia County Sheriff's Office spokesman Andrew Gant wrote in an email to The News-Journal that generally traffic crash investigations are handled by FHP in unincorporated areas.
And while Aaron Kuehn's gravely injured daughter was placed in a helicopter and flown to a hospital, her father was placed in a patrol car and driven to jail, accused of driving under the influence and given a speeding ticket.
"This is what’s really sad," Chanfrau said in a phone interview. "After he watched her be brutally run over and be rushed out by an ambulance they then turned around and arrest him for a DUI."
Aaron Kuehn spent about six hours at the Volusia County Branch Jail before posting bond and being released. The State Attorney's Office later declined to press charges on the DUI and the speeding ticket was dismissed.
EVAC paramedic John Drake told investigators that when he arrived Joseph was holding Amy Kuehn’s head. The paramedic asked the trooper what happened, according to a report.
“ ‘I struck her with my vehicle, I hit her with the left front of my vehicle, don’t let her die,’ ” Drake quoted Joseph.
The FHP investigation states that Joseph's patrol car didn't travel as far off the road as the lawsuit contends. FHP investigators say the patrol car traveled 102 feet off the road before Joseph began to brake and then the car struck the woman. The car then traveled another 19 feet before coming to a stop. The tire tracks show furrow marks in the grass 14 feet before the collision indicating where Joseph tried to turn away and not hit the woman, the report said.
The patrol car was going less than 30 mph when it left the road.
The FHP report also found that the darkness in the area may have contributed to the accident. Investigators found that Amy Kuehn was struck while lying on the ground.
Amy Kuehn had suffered massive injuries. She died nine days later on June 24, 2017, at Orlando Regional Medical Center. She showed only one brief sign of consciousness three days after the crash when a doctor asked her to squeeze his hand if she could hear him and she did, Chanfrau said.
The autopsy listed the cause of death as “craniocerebral trauma” due to impact to the head, according to an autopsy report.
Joseph declined to speak to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement when it investigated the fatality.
Montes said in the phone interview that troopers, just like any other driver, have the right to decline to speak to investigators.
The FDLE forwarded its report as is routine to State Attorney R.J. Larizza's Office which decided no further action was needed.
While Joseph declined to speak to investigators, Nunez did.
Nunez said that after Amy Kuehn got out of the car and started running, Joseph drove onto the lawn in Amy Kuehn’s direction and the woman ”stumbled as if impaired, tripped and fell face down,” the report states.
He said that Joseph pressed on his brakes but “slid right over her,” hitting her with the left front of his patrol car.
Nunez estimated Joseph’s speed at 5 to 10 mph when he struck Amy Kuehn.
He said Joseph got out of his car and immediately tried to help Amy Kuehn, trying to hold up her head up but the woman had suffered deep lacerations to her head and was unresponsive.
Nunez also told an FHP investigator that he believed Joseph drove off the road "in an attempt to apprehend" Amy Kuehn, according to a report.
Joseph left the FHP on Feb. 2 and is now a deputy with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Montes said. Nunez left about a year earlier and also went to work for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, she said.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office said that Joseph and Nunez were aware that The News-Journal had requested to speak to them but the deputies did not respond.
Joseph failed to drive his car in a safe manner and violated “basic policies and procedures of FHP relating to chasing pedestrians with a car and engaging in a “hot pursuit” with a patrol car when there was absolutely no reasonable need to do so whatsoever,” according to Chanfrau's lawsuit.
But FHP spokeswoman Montes said the agency’s pursuit policy does not prohibit using a car to chase a pedestrian. The issue is not addressed either way, she said.
The 13-page pursuit policy never mentions pedestrians and focuses on vehicle pursuits. The Florida Highway Patrol authorizes vehicle pursuits for felony offenses, reckless driving and driving under the influence, according to the policy.
The policy also states that troopers in a pursuit have a “duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons.”
While FHP policy states that troopers will not pass other patrol cars or drive on the wrong side of the road or in the wrong direction during a pursuit, the policy does not address driving off the road and onto a lawn.
The FHP's rules are similar to the Volusia County Sheriff's Office pursuit policy which focuses on vehicles and does not address using a patrol car to pursue a pedestrian. The Sheriff's Office limits pursuits to felonies, such as violent crimes and arsons or burglaries of occupied structures. The Sheriff's Office lists risk factors on whether to decide to pursue. The more pedestrians in the area, the riskier pursuit and the greater reason not to pursue.
DeLand Police Department's policy also deals with vehicle pursuits and does not address using a car to chase a person. But it states that police shall not engage in a pursuit if there "exists population density or vehicular and pedestrian traffic."
DeLand's officers underwent extensive training regarding pursuits following a 2013 incident when police in that city ran over and killed a man running off the road to flee a traffic stop. Police continue to receive training on a yearly basis, said Chris Graham, the city spokesman.
On May 8, 2013, Marlon Brown jumped out of his car as he tried to flee from a deputy and ran through a vegetable garden in the Spring Hill neighborhood of DeLand. Former DeLand Police Officer James Harris drove his car into the garden, hit Brown and stopped his car on top of the man's body, killing him.
Harris was later fired for violating the DeLand Police Department’s pursuit policy. A grand jury declined to indict Harris on a charge of vehicular homicide.
Brown’s ex-wife, Krystal Brown, reached a $550,000 settlement with the city of DeLand to be set aside for the couple’s three children.
'She was scared'
Joseph's FHP patrol car was not equipped with a dash camera but Nunez's was and it continued to pick up the audio even though its position did not capture much video.
Aaron Kuehn can be heard shouting, "He just ran over my daughter!"
At one point, apparently, Trooper Joseph, tells the father, "I'm trying to help her."
"You are the one that ran over her," Aaron Kuehn replies.
"I understand, sir!" Joseph replies.
Volusia County Sheriff's Sgt. Cody Cochran arrived and asked what happened. The two troopers were visible in his body camera and one of them replied as the other stood nearby. The one that responds is hard to understand but says something about the woman jumping out and the grass being wet.
Cochran then turned his attention to Aaron Kuehn who had walked over. Kuehn goes back and sits on the grass near his Mustang. As emergency workers tried to save his daughter’s life, Kuehn sat on the ground, at times lying face down on the blades of grass and wailing. At other times he expressed disbelief as he spoke to Cochran.
"She was scared," Aaron Kuehn said. "She ran out of the car. When I pulled over she got scared. And she ran and he went after her and he drove after her and she was running as fast as she can but when she slipped he ran over her. And that’s not good. That’s not good, sir!"
The father added: "But she’s not a bank robber or a murderer. She was just scared. She got out and she ran. And I didn't want her to run."
At least some law enforcement officers at the scene appeared puzzled by the FHP patrol car parked on the grass.
A body camera belonging to Volusia County Sheriff’s deputy William Leven captured some of his conversation with a female Volusia County sheriff's deputy.
“They told me that they hit her, but these, I didn’t even see this,” said Leven, apparently referring to the tire tracks in the grass visible in the video. “These are going right toward FHP’s car.”
And a few seconds later, Leven said: “And she’s laying there. That’s where she was found.”
The female deputy then says something and asks, "Why are they in the yard?”
“I don’t know,” Leven said. “They (the troopers) are like freaking out. They won’t talk to me.”
She replies: “I don’t blame them.”