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Wrongful death lawsuit filed

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GREENFIELD — The widow of an officer killed in a hit-and-run accident last fall has sued the driver who struck her husband, as well as the manufacturers of his bike and other equipment.

In a wrongful death suit filed this week, Lesley Phillips alleges that it was a combination of negligence by multiple parties that led to the death of her husband, Greenfield police Patrolman Will Phillips, who was cycling on U.S. 40 last September when he was struck and killed by Sue Vanderbeck of Indianapolis.

Vanderbeck fled the scene but ultimately turned herself in. She was convicted of a Class C felony and sentenced to two years’ home detention in August.

The lawsuit against her accuses Vanderbeck of “failing to keep a proper look out; failing to avoid a collision; failing to timely decelerate and brake; (and) failing to render aid.”

The suit also names two bicycle manufacturers, Giant light Bicycle Inc. and Bell Sports Inc., which designed the bike, lighting system and helmet Will Phillips was wearing the night he was struck and killed.

Roy Tabor, who is representing Lesley Phillips, said manufacturers should be held responsible for selling items he considers unequipped to ensure rider safety.

The bike Will Phillips was riding the night he died was designed and manufactured by Giant Bicycle Inc. It did not come with any built-in lighting system, though Phillips had installed one, Tabor said. Phillips was a member of the police department’s bike patrol team, but he was riding his personal bike when he was struck.

“The notion that a bicycle could be sold that would not be able to be seen at night, knowing full well – as all these manufacturers do – that these bicycles are used in evening hours is not a reasonable sort of a practice,” Tabor said.

The suit also criticizes Giant Bicycle for “failing to provide adequate instructions and warnings regarding bicycle lighting systems … and the dangers of riding on public highways.”

Bell Sports manufactured the helmet Phillips was wearing, as well as the red light Phillips installed on the back of his bike.

The suit alleges that the red light was defective, which Tabor explained to mean that while the light was functioning properly, it was not designed to provide sufficient illumination to alert approaching traffic.

As for the helmet, it should have guarded against the multiple skull fractures and other head trauma Phillips suffered, Tabor said.

“As so often happens with tragedies, there’s often multiple causes, and this is no exception,” Tabor said.

No hearing date has been set in the case. Vanderbeck’s attorney, Steven Litz, had no comment, saying he had not yet received the lawsuit.

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