On April 29, 2008, 12-year-old Luis Jovel Jr. was crossing Stringtown Road in Clarksburg, Md. when Montgomery County Police Officer Jason Cokinos, in uniform and driving a police cruiser, came down the road at nearly twice the posted speed limit of 30 mph.
Cokinos, who would later says he thought the speed limit was 40 mph and that he thought he "was traveling the speed limit," was going at least 56 mph, according to forensic investigators.
The officer slammed on his brakes about 40 feet before he hit Jovel, but an accident reconstruction report concluded the Ford Crown Victoria was still going 46 mph at the time of impact. Jovel, now 14, suffered permanent brain damage from the accident, and is paralyzed in both his arms and legs. He requires around-the-clock medical care.
Though Cokinos was traveling to an off-duty job at the time of the accident, Montgomery County will pay the Jovel family just $400,000 in damages because of a state law restricting the liability of local governments. A county police spokesman said the case qualified because Cokinos was in the cruiser and in uniform, which means he was "not considered off-duty."
So Cokinos was officially on duty at the time, and a police investigation concluded that Jovel would not have been hit if Cokinos had been obeying the law. What punishment did he receive? A $185 speeding ticket and no loss of his job. Police officials will not say if Cokinos was disciplined, citing Maryland confidentiality laws.
The Jovel family has incurred nearly $2 million in medical expenses, and have spent more than $120,000 on a specially equipped van and accessibility upgrades to their home. Norma Jovel gave up her job to care for her son. Luis Jovel Sr. is a manager at a McDonald’s.
The Jovels have called the county settlement insufficient, but accepted it out of fears they would end up with nothing. As for the out-of-pocket cost to Cokinos: If the boy he struck lives to be 80, the settlement will come to less than three dollars per year of his paralysis and brain injury.
Said Cokinos’s lawyer: "I know he’s relieved it’s over. He has to move forward, too."
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC