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Lawsuit claims sheriff’s office, Utah County, Taco Bell negligent in crash that killed BYU student

The father of a BYU student killed in a crash filed a wrongful death lawsuit on March 16. His son, Joseph Spencer, died in March 2021 as he was leaving a Taco Bell drive-thru. The lawsuit was filed against the Utah County sheriff’s deputy who was driving the truck, the sheriff’s office, Utah County and Taco Bell. | Courtesy Provo Police Department
PROVO, Utah ( — A lawyer representing the father of a 22-year-old BYU student who was killed in a crash just over a year ago says the only thing people can ask for in a wrongful death lawsuit is monetary compensation.
But what they are really looking for, attorney Randall Spencer says, is more important societal goods, like safety — specifically an expectation of adherence to safety policies by law enforcement officers.
Wesley Spencer, the father of the BYU student, filed a wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday against the Utah County sheriff’s deputy who was involved in the accident, the sheriff’s office, Utah County and Taco Bell. Randall Spencer is an attorney with the law firm Fillmore Spencer, which represents the student’s dad, Wesley Spencer.
The crash occurred outside Taco Bell on 900 East in Provo on March 16, 2021. As Joseph Spencer was leaving the drive-thru, his car was hit by a truck driven by Joseph Richardson, a Utah County sheriff’s deputy, who was on his way to a separate incident.
RELATED | BYU-Provo student killed after crash with SWAT officer driving to standoff
Randall Spencer said that a spokesman from the sheriff’s office has admitted that officers responding to calls in private vehicles should follow all traffic laws, but in the complaint, he alleges this policy was not followed.
In addition to the civil lawsuit, Richardson was charged with manslaughter on March 7 in relation to the same crash. Richardson was placed on leave, pending the outcome of an investigation into the crash.
The civil complaint says that Joseph Richardson was traveling at 56.5 mph on a road with a 35 mph speed limit. He sped up to 57.8 mph in order to try to get ahead of Joseph Spencer’s car before the crash, according to the legal document. The complaint states that if Richardson had applied his brakes as soon as he noticed the car, there would not have been a collision.
The lawsuit alleges that the sheriff’s office had ordered Richardson to report to an incident as a deputy and member of the SWAT team and he was driving to the Utah County Sheriff’s Office in Spanish Fork.
The lawsuit said that both Utah County and the Utah County Sheriff’s Office ask and expect SWAT team members to respond “hastily,” including Richardson in this instance, and that both agencies should be aware that officers doing this may choose to disregard traffic laws.
“Defendants owed a duty to Joseph Spencer to protect and serve and to operate private unmarked vehicles consistent with all laws and traffic ordinances applicable to people in Utah who operate vehicles on public roads,” the complaint states.
Sgt. Spencer Cannon with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office said the office is aware of the wrongful death lawsuit, but is not able to comment on pending litigation.
Randall Spencer said that one of the frustrating things about this lawsuit is that he has not been able to get the amount of information they would typically have before filing a case. He believes the allegations in the complaint are accurate, but that there is more information to which he hasn’t been privy.
Specifically, the lawsuit states that law enforcement radio communication was on a SWAT team radio frequency the day of the crash, to which Randall Spencer has been refused access.
“Utah County chose secrecy over accountability,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also states that Joseph Spencer was a responsible driver, citing reconstruction analysis by Provo police findings that a responsible driver would have determined that it was safe to pull out of the drive-thru to make a left turn when Joseph Spencer did, and would not have been able to perceive how quickly Richardson was moving.
Randall Spencer said that they have been through the same Taco Bell drive-thru multiple times and there is a bush that partially obstructs the north view from the drive-thru, as well as the ability for cars on the road to see cars in the drive-thru. This bush, he said, delays the time drivers are able to see each other.
“In my mind … it’s pretty obvious that drive-thrus, roadways even, private businesses that are constructing roadways should endeavor to promote safety and promote the line of sight being as clear as possible for vehicles exiting their drive-thru lanes onto a busy street like 9th East in Provo,” Spencer said.
He said that the bushes don’t need to be there; and while they were likely placed to make the restaurant look better, safety should be considered more important in landscaping decisions.
Taco Bell did not respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit claims that the negligence of Joseph Richardson, Utah County, the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, and Taco Bell caused the death of Joseph Spencer. His father is seeking monetary damages of at least $300,000.
Randall Spencer said that he also represents Wesley Spencer in the criminal case, but that they are not hoping to complicate the case. He said the goal is to ensure that the officer driving the car that hit Joseph Spencer’s car is treated just like any person would in a similar circumstance.
“He’s not advocating prosecution of a police officer just because he’s a police officer at all, he’s advocating fairness — that the officer be treated just like a lay person would be who took the life of a son,” Randall Spencer said.
The post Lawsuit claims sheriff’s office, Utah County, Taco Bell negligent in crash that killed BYU student appeared first on East Idaho News.

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