An elderly couple from Gray is suing the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, alleging deputies were negligent when a high-speed chase ended in a three-vehicle crash that seriously injured them both in 2018.

Sheriff’s deputies put down a spike mat along Route 302 on Dec. 16, 2018, in an attempt to stop a man’s car, but he swerved and lost control of the vehicle, careening into other cars that were stopped nearby.

Barbara and Elmer Young, 85 and 92, pictured last Christmas, suffered serious injuries when a man being chased by police crashed his vehicle into theirs. Photo courtesy of Berman and Simmons Law Firm

The suspect’s car struck two vehicles. A passenger in one of them recorded dramatic video of the event that was posted and viewed across the nation. Attorneys for the Gray couple say the footage helps prove that the sheriff’s office needlessly placed the public at risk.

“This was just a tragic confluence of mistakes from the beginning,” said the couple’s attorney, Steven Silin. “Everything went wrong.”

Sheriff Kevin Joyce would not say Wednesday whether any officers were disciplined as a result of the chase and crash, and declined to release the department’s chase policy.

“The policy that we were operating under, was followed,” Joyce said in an email.

Joyce also could not say definitively whether the policy had changed since the crash, but suggested it is revised like any other policy at the department as best practices evolve over time across the country. He said a request for a history of policy revisions would have to be processed through his office like any other Freedom of Access Act request.

The crash unfolded after Elmer and Barbara Young, now age 92 and 85, were directed by a Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy to pull their Buick over to the shoulder of the road moments before a blue Chevrolet Cobalt sped into view ahead of them.

Driving the oncoming car was Dale H. Tucker, now 31, who police say was agitated over a  confrontation with the mother of his child over custody that began earlier in Casco. Police believed Tucker, who had a history of domestic violence and mental health problems, was planning to drive to Windham, where he believed the child’s mother was headed, and officers wanted to prevent a confrontation.

The lawsuit alleges that deputies were wrong to chase Tucker because he did not present a danger to anyone else and deputies did not need to apprehend him immediately. Chasing him through a densely populated and heavily trafficked area posed an unreasonable risk to the public, the lawsuit says. The entire encounter, from when police first gave chase to the crash, lasted less than 10 minutes, Silin said.

Tucker was initially charged with domestic violence terrorizing, eluding police, reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon and driving to endanger, but in a plea agreement struck in January, Tucker pleaded guilty to aggravated eluding and reckless conduct, both felonies, and was sentenced to 8 years in prison with all but 3 1/2 years suspended. His earliest possible release is 2022.

Elmer Young suffered a broken back, broken ribs and severe cuts, according to a copy of the lawsuit, which was filed in Cumberland County Superior Court and provided by Silin. Barbara Young suffered a broken neck, broken ribs and a severe trauma-related bleeding injury known as a hematoma. Both were hospitalized for two weeks and required months of rehabilitation and additional care that continues today, their attorney said.

Police say Dale H. Tucker of Casco rammed his Chevy Cobalt, right, into two vehicles after losing control while trying to avoid a spike mat that was put down by deputies as he fled from police on Route 302 in Raymond in December 2018. Photo courtesy of Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office

The incident began when police responded to Tucker’s home in Casco, where they found him enraged and destroying property inside the home. The girlfriend and their young child had been outside for police. Tucker was not armed, but was acting erratically. Police told the girlfriend to take the child somewhere else. Tucker believed that he would never see his child again, and became angry and upset.

Police then left Tucker’s home, but were called again by the girlfriend, who said Tucker texted her that he was going to her parents’ home in Windham, where she was also headed. Police began looking for Tucker, and a short time later, a sheriff’s deputy attempted to stop him near the Windham Walmart. But he fled the traffic stop and continued to drive east.

Deputies converged on an area of Route 302 about a mile ahead of Tucker, then stopped traffic and ordered motorists to park on the shoulder of the road.

Moments later, Tucker’s blue Chevy Cobalt sped toward the area and deputies deployed a spike mat intended to deflate Tucker’s tires.

Tucker swerved to avoid the spike mat, but one of his tires deflated and he lost control of the vehicle, smashing into a pickup truck and the Young’s vehicle, police said afterward.

At the time, a sheriff’s lieutenant said Tucker lost control because he over-corrected trying to recover from a slide, and not because one of his tires was deflating.

Silin, the Young’s attorney, said police should have never chased Tucker because at that moment, he had not committed a crime, was not armed and posed no immediate threat to the public.

“They knew who this guy was, they knew where he lived, they knew he was in an emotional state,” Silin said. “This is a chase that never should have happened. The consequence was foreseeable.”

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