Family sues 11 officers in death of truck driver

Pikesville man died after leading Md. toll police on long chase

No criminal charges were filed

May 16, 2001|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

The family of a Pikesville truck driver has filed a $24 million lawsuit against 11 Maryland Transportation Authority police officers, alleging that they killed him last summer after a long highway pursuit.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Baltimore Circuit Court, claims that the officers beat to death Yakov Ostrovsky, 35, after he led police on a chase from the Fort McHenry Tunnel to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Although Ostrovsky was unarmed and posed no serious threat to the officers, the lawsuit says they did not stop the "assault" even after they knew he had stopped breathing.

An autopsy by the state medical examiner's office found that Ostrovsky died of a heart attack resulting from asphyxia and ruled the death a homicide, according to a copy of the report.

"It seems very clear from the autopsy report that these officers just went ballistic," said John Amato IV, the family's attorney. "This whole thing just does not add up."

The Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office reviewed the case because Ostrovsky died at BWI, but concluded "no criminal charges were warranted or appropriate," said Kristin A. Riggin, a spokeswoman.

According to an account at the time, the incident began about 10:45 p.m. July 3 when Ostrovsky's tractor-trailer rear-ended five cars on Interstate 95 between Eastern Avenue and the Fort McHenry Tunnel toll plaza, a stretch patrolled by Maryland Transportation Authority police.

Ostrovsky's truck, filled with H&S Bakery goods that he was delivering to Giant Food stores, then crashed through a closed toll lane and proceeded through the tunnel, east on Interstate 195 to BWI, with police in pursuit. The truck finally stopped on the upper level of the airport terminal.

What happened next is unclear.

An agency spokeswoman said yesterday that she could not comment on the case, but a Sun article last summer quoted another spokeswoman, Kelly Melhem, as saying that Ostrovsky would not get out of his truck when police told him.

"They had to physically remove him," Melhem said then. "Pepper spray was used by an officer at that point."

Ostrovsky's family tells a different story. Mira Yuditsky, his mother-in-law, was there when police officials came to explain what had happened.

"They told us that when the truck stopped, they opened the passenger door, and he fell out the passenger side," Yuditsky said yesterday. "And they said he was running from the police. I said right away, `I don't believe it.' I wouldn't believe it as long as I live."

Yuditsky said no one knows why Ostrovsky drove so erratically that night. "But one thing I can tell you: He was very law-abiding. He wasn't crazy. He wasn't drunk. He didn't have any contraband. He didn't have any weapon. The worst thing he did was smoking."

The autopsy describes cuts and bruises on Ostrovsky's head, nose, arms and ankles.

The report concludes that police officers restrained Ostrovsky and at some point, his air supply was cut off.

"The asphyxia (lack of oxygen) led to cardiac arrhythmia (abnormal beating of the heart)," the autopsy states, adding that Ostrovsky was at increased risk of a heart attack because he had hardening of the arteries.

Ostrovsky, who moved to Baltimore almost 11 years ago from Baku, Azerbaijan, is survived by his wife of nearly 10 years, Yanina, and their daughter, Shelby, 5.

Yuditsky cried yesterday as she described the family's confusion, anger and sorrow.

"They killed not only Yakov, they killed the whole family," she said.

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