The Riverdale Press - 12/17/2009

By Aliza Appelbaum

Relatives of Drane Nikac, the 66- year-old Kingsbridge resident killed Oct. 30 after being run over by a car driven by a allegedly drunk off-duty NYPD officer, are planning to sue the city of New York, the NYPD, and the officer behind the wheel, said Rosemarie Arnold, the family's attorney.

The family has filed a $20 million notice of claim against the city and the New York Police Department. The officer, Riverdale resident and 22-year NYPD veteran Det. Kevin Spellman, could be added to a later lawsuit, she said.

"Justice is always the first priority," Ms. Arnold said. "Unfortunately the law only gives them the remedy of money."

Claims must be filed within 90 days of any incident. The lawsuit has not been filed yet, but "one is coming," Ms. Arnold said, adding that right now her office is awaiting results of the ongoing investigation.

Ms. Nikac, of Irwin Avenue, was killed at 6:30 a.m. on Kingsbridge Avenue between West 232nd and West 233rd streets. Det. Spellman was driving his grey Chevy sedan rented by the U.S. government when he slammed into Ms. Nikac, hitting her so hard that she was lifted off her feet, traveling several feet in the air, witnesses reported.

Despite previous reports that Ms. Nikac was pronounced dead at the scene or immediately upon arrival to St. Barnabas, she was still alive, conscious and aware of her deteriorating situation at the hospital, according to Ms. Arnold and the claim she filed.

Ms. Nikac eventually succumbed to her numerous injuries, which, according to the claim, were "severe and permanent injuries including but not limited to extensive trauma, significant disfigurement, left leg partially severed [and] blunt impact to the head and torso."

Still, despite her injuries, Ms. Nikac "experienced conscious pain and suffering prior to her death," according to the claim. The circumstances of the incident were particularly distressing to Ms. Nikac, according to Ms. Arnold.

"She was a big respecter of law enforcement," Ms. Arnold said. "She knew that she had been hit by a car and that a police officer was the one driving. It was upsetting for her."

Among other things, the claim alleges that the incident was preventable if the other officers had acted before Det. Spellman got behind the wheel.

When his blood was finally tested more than five-and-a-half hours after the incident - before which he refused both Breathalyzer and blood tests - his blood alcohol content registered .21, more than twice the legal limit of .08, according to police.

"Before the accident he was in a drinking establishment with fellow officers," Ms. Arnold said. "There were other officers there who witnessed his visible intoxication without doing anything about it."

Det. Spellman, who could not be reached for this story, was charged with aggravated vehicular homicide, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison if convicted, as well as more than 10 lesser counts. He pleaded not guilty to all charges, said his attorney, Robert J. Brunetti, and his next court date for the criminal charges is Friday, Jan. 15.

Mr. Brunetti said he will not be representing Det. Spellman on any civil charges that might arise.

In the meantime, Ms. Nikac's family anticipates getting justice for their grandmother, Ms. Arnold said.

"[Det. Spellman] was visibly intoxicated in front of other officers while he was a police officer employed by the city driving a car leased by the federal government," she said. "It is very tragic and this did not have to happen."