Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Help Me Howard: Hole in Home
A South Florida woman at home when a car crashes into it. She wants the police department involved in the incident to pay up and help her put her life back together. But do they have to? Here's Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Sheriff Al Lamberti: "This is the hole that was made when the car came through."
They say "your home is your castle," but for Bernadette Van Lenten, her palace was in pieces.
The Broward Sheriff's Office was doing a drug sting in Tamarac when they say they were forced to fire on a man driving his car.
Sheriff Al Lamberti: "They were in uniforms. They were in their tactical uniforms. They told them to stop, stop the car they would not stop."
It was 9:30 at night, Bernadette was in her living room when the shots rang out.
Bernadette Van Lenten: "I heard pop, pop, pop, and it sounded like fireworks, and I thought, this is it."
The driver was killed, but the car roared into Bernadette's bedroom, smashing into her bed.
Bernadette Van Lenten: "It sounded like a battering ram at my front door, like someone was trying to come through my door with a tank, and the electricity went off, all at the same time."
Bernadette crawled to the phone, dialed 911 then hung up and started crying.
Bernadette Van Lenten: "I sat in my kitchen for 10 minutes, just praying I wasn't going to die because I didn't want my children to have to go through losing their mother like that."
When a deputy told her it was safe to come outside, she saw the Nissan with the dead suspect inside and realized how lucky she had been.
Bernadette Van Lenten: "If I was in my bedroom 10 minutes earlier, there is the potential that I would have been killed."
Bernadette was fine, but her home was declared an unsafe structure. The City of Tamarac did come out and board up the hole, for a price.
Bernadette Van Lenten: "And they subsequently sent me a bill for $200 for boarding up the hole."
Bernadette has homeowner's insurance, but the deductible is $2,500, cash she does not have, and so she asked deputies if victims of crime got help in cases like this.
Bernadette Van Lenten: "The officer informed me that I was not a victim. I had not gone through a burglary, nor had I gone through an assault, and I said, 'Excuse me, I had a dead man, in a car, in my bedroom, I think that makes me a victim.'"
Legally, the officer is right. Bernadette was not a crime victim, but she was the victim of a crime, and no matter how the law defines it, she has thousands of dollars in bills from a police-involved shooting.
Bernadette Van Lenten: "I've got a big hole in my house, my house has been condemned. I can't live there. I'm essentially in the street unless I can pay for a hotel on my own. What am I supposed to do?"
But is a police department responsible for damages to a home that occurred during a drug sting they operated? Howard?
Howard Finkelstein: "It depends on whether the police were negligent and careless or whether they acted reasonably. In other words, should they have been operating a drug sting at that time and at that location, and when they lost control should they have shot the driver. A lawyer can't answer that, only a jury can, if Bernadette chooses to sue."
A Broward Sheriff's spokesperson told us they were working with Bernadette to get her all the assistance possible. They put her homeowner's insurance in touch with Allstate, who insured the driver of the car.
Citizens then gave Bernadette $6,000 to cover her living expenses, and $11,000 is on the way to pay the contractors who are putting her house back together. Bernadette is now waiting for the driver's insurance to cover her $2,500 deductible.
Bernadette Van Lenten: "This is where the wall has been repaired."
For Bernadette, things are starting to look up. Her wall's been replaced, the electricity is back on, and it's safe for her to live here again. Some good news for a lucky, but now nervous woman.
Bernadette Van Lenten: "I'm sleeping. Part of the problem I'm having is if I hear the least little noise, I'm wide awake at 2 o'clock in the morning because I'm still concerned about all the comings and goings."
I can understand why she is a little restless. By the way, even if Bernadette sues BSO, she won't get damage for being traumatized. The only thing she could collect for is damage to her house, and if her insurance and the driver's insurance cover that, she can't collect it again. So, there would be no reason to sue anyone.
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