The family of a Marion County man killed in a July 2019 car accident involving a Fairmont police officer settled a civil lawsuit against the city on Wednesday.
Emily Calhoun Santini, the wife of Steven Gene Santini, agreed to a $1.8 million settlement amount with the City of Fairmont. Steven Santini, 72, died one block away from his home, where he and Emily had lived for more than 15 years.
Santini was attempting to make a left turn onto Country Club Road, in Fairmont, when city police officer Jakob Streyle crashed his marked Dodge RAM police truck into the driver’s side door of Santini’s Subaru Forester. Santini was pronounced dead at the scene.
Streyle was driving at least 70 miles per hour in a 35-mile-per-hour zone just before the crash, was not responding to a call and did not have the truck’s emergency lights or siren on at the time of the crash, civil court documents showed.
The Fairmont Police Department did not discipline Streyle for the incident and declined to comment for this report.
The City of Fairmont, Streyle and Fairmont police officer Christopher Guinup — who was sitting in the passenger’s seat of Streyle’s truck at the time of the crash — are named in the settlement documents.
On the day of the crash, Fairmont police posted on their Facebook page a report that a police truck had collided with a vehicle driven by a man who had run a stop sign. The post said the truck “was not being operated at an extensive rate of speed.”
The Santini family did not learn until March — eight months after the accident — that Streyle had been traveling more than twice the speed limit just before the crash. An independent crash reconstructionist contracted by the Santinis’ insurance company determined Streyle was driving at least 73 mph in the seconds before he T-boned Santini.
Jeff Freeman, the Marion County Prosecuting Attorney, who Streyle’s family politically supports, declined to criminally charge Streyle. On March 26, Freeman wrote to sheriff investigators he could not conclude that Streyle was at fault in the incident.
Freeman said that multiple witnesses told investigators that Santini ran the stop sign on Bison Street before pulling onto Country Club Road. But the initial police report from the crash cites just one witness, who said Santini’s vehicle ran the stop sign and Streyle’s truck “did not have time to avoid the accident.”
The sole witness was placed about 375 feet from the intersection at the time of the crash, according to the report.
Freeman also cited one section of state Code, the Authorized Emergency Vehicles section, in his letter clearing Streyle. The section defines what traffic laws authorized emergency vehicles are allowed to violate when emergency lights or sirens are activated.
Police vehicles are the only emergency vehicles not required under the code to use an audible siren or emergency lights, which Freeman said cleared Streyle of fault from not having either activated at the time of the crash.
Tony O’Dell, a Charleston attorney who represented the Santini family in the civil case, said Wednesday’s settlement does not make up for the lack of accountability shown by city and county law enforcement in the year following the crash.
“Money is a poor substitute for the life of a loved one. However, once a very preventable death is tragically caused by the recklessness of a public servant sworn to protect and serve, it is the only way to try and hold those in power accountable,” O’Dell said.
“The Santini family hopes that the senseless death of Steven Santini, a father, husband, brother and dedicated man of faith, results in changes at the Fairmont Police Department,” he said. “Having a badge does not give anyone the right to needlessly endanger the lives of innocent people.”