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North Huntingdon woman sues over injuries in police custody

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By Chris Foreman
Friday, June 3, 2011

A North Huntingdon woman alleges she suffered a concussion while in police custody last year when a township cruiser struck a deer as she wore handcuffs but not a seat belt, according to a lawsuit filed on Thursday.

An attorney for Susanne Kokoska filed the complaint in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court against North Huntingdon, the township police department and Officer Mark Hamilton, the arresting officer.

The complaint alleges three counts of negligence.

Hamilton stopped Kokoska, 33, for speeding on July 20, 2010, then charged her with driving under the influence because she showed signs of intoxication and failed a sobriety test, according to the criminal complaint.

The officer drove Kokoska to Excela Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg for testing that later determined that her blood-alcohol level was 0.137 percent, above the 0.08 percent threshold in Pennsylvania for drivers, court records show.

Kokoska alleges the crash happened shortly after that, when Hamilton was driving her from the hospital to the North Huntingdon police station.

While driving along the West Otterman Street on-ramp to Route 30, near the Greensburg-Hempfield border, Hamilton brought the cruiser to an abrupt stop after striking a deer, attorney John Hauser wrote in the lawsuit.

Kokoska, whose hands were cuffed behind her back, was "unable to protect herself during the collision and instead became a human missile within the vehicle," the lawsuit claims.

She struck her head and shoulder against the partition between the cruiser's front and back seats, suffering a concussion, a separated shoulder and other injuries, according to the lawsuit.

Judge Debra Pezze permitted Kokoska in November to enter the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program, which allows first-time, nonviolent criminal offenders to petition to get their court record expunged after successful completion of a probationary term.

Entry into the program is not an admission of guilt.

North Huntingdon commissioners voted to hire Hamilton, an Iraq war veteran and former state trooper, in September 2009.

Police Chief Michael Daugherty said his department had not been served with a copy of the complaint. He declined to comment.

Bruce Dice, the township's solicitor, said he would turn over the complaint to the township's insurance carrier after he receives it.

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