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October 2, 2005

Deaf man sues Ogden over car accident response

From: Salt Lake Tribune, United States - Oct 2, 2005

'Police ignored me': The Roy man said he was issued a ticket without an opportunity to give a statement

By Pamela Manson
The Salt Lake Tribune

A deaf man contends the damage to his car in an Ogden fender bender was nothing compared with the damage inflicted on his rights as police investigated.

First, Ogden police officers refused to allow him to write down his side of the story and ticketed him, even though the other driver had backed into his stopped car, Terrence Jimi Cantrell said.

Then, a deaf witness was never interviewed, Cantrell alleges. A city prosecutor seemed puzzled about the communication problem because he thought hearing-impaired drivers were accompanied by their own sign language interpreters, Cantrell said.

And after Cantrell filed a discrimination claim against the city, risk management officials interviewed the hearing witnesses face-to-face but refused to provide an interpreter for him, he said.

Last week, the Roy man took his dispute to U.S. District Court, filing a lawsuit accusing the city of Ogden of violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination relating to service availability. The legal action seeks unspecified monetary damages and an order requiring the city to establish policies on effective communication with people who are deaf.

The Utah Association for the Deaf has joined Cantrell in the suit. Also named as a defendant is Utah Risk Management Mutual Association, which provides services to Ogden.

The Ogden city attorney did not return calls seeking comment. The head of the risk management association was out of town and could not be reached.

"All we want is equal access," said Cantrell, 40, who runs the deaf mentor program for the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind in Ogden. "I don't think it's right for another deaf person to go through the hell of standing there and being ignored."

His attorney, Dale Boam, said Cantrell's experience is not unusual.

"The real damage isn't to your car," Boam said. "It's the daily indignities that become insidious."

According to his suit, Cantrell was leaving a business associate's home on Aug. 8, 2004, when he saw a vehicle backing out of a driveway across the street. The other driver, a 16-year-old girl, quickly backed out and swung around so far that the front of her car went past the shoulder of the road and struck Cantrell's bumper, which was even with the end of the driveway, the lawsuit says.

Cantrell says he tried to communicate through gestures with the teen, but she began crying. A couple, presumably the girl's parents, moved her vehicle and cleaned up the accident scene, he said.

When officers arrived, Cantrell says he gestured that he wanted to write down what had happened, but instead was given an accident information form with spaces to record his name and insurance information.

He says the officers talked to the girl and her parents, then issued him a citation for improper backing. His business associate, who also is deaf, was never interviewed.

"The police completely ignored me," Cantrell said, adding that if a Spanish-speaking driver had been involved, the officers would have provided an interpreter.

He said that after he spent time and $500 in attorneys' fees fighting, the city dropped the citation for lack of evidence the day before his trial was to begin in December.

Boam filed a damage claim with the city asking for $25,000 to compensate Cantrell for his costs and the humiliation he suffered. After the city allegedly failed to provide an interpreter to investigate, the attorney filed a second claim asking for a "ridiculous" amount - $250,000 - to get officials' attention. He filed suit after that was rejected.

Cantrell said police once stopped him because his car was the same model as the vehicle of a theft suspect. Officers pointed their guns at him as he tried to tell them he was deaf.

"Without the ability to communicate, I was frozen," he said. "This is why equal access [to a way to communicate] is so important. It's for our protection."

© Copyright 2005, The Salt Lake Tribune.