Commissioner: Settlement to hurt homeowners, economy

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OKLAHOMA CITY - An agreement after a fatal, deputy-caused traffic accident will cost county homeowners half a million dollars.

The settlement, approved by a judge last week, will be passed on to county residents by way of property tax increases.

It comes about two years after an Oklahoma County Sheriff's deputy traveling around 110 miles per hour rear-ended Robert Porter's pickup truck, sending it into the brush off the side of the interstate upside down.

Deputy Jacob Streeter was charged with negligent homicide.

According to court documents, he had been driving after a Dodge Charger, which passed his vehicle without its lights on.

Streeter flashed his headlights and followed at a high rate of speed, while attempting to enter the vehicle's tag number into his onboard computer, according to an affidavit.

Streeter, a state trooper reports, would have had about 8.5 seconds to get an unobstructed view of Porter's truck, which was traveling the speed limit and did not cut the deputy off.

"Obviously this was a very tragic situation where clearly the county was at fault given that it was a county employee and a county vehicle," said Brian Maughan, chair of the Oklahoma County Board of Commissioners. "There was no lights or sirens, they believe. That added to our negligence on our end."

Maughan and the commissioners voted to reach the settlement with Porter's family in December, which a judge upheld last week.

By law, that settlement must be financed through county property taxes, said treasurer Forrest "Butch" Freeman, who estimated the owner of a $150,000 home would see a four-cent increase for four years.

"The average homeowner will not even notice," he told NewsChannel 4. "$500,000 is a lot of money. It’s a lot of money to me, it’s a lot of money to you, but then it’s also being spread across a huge tax roll. And when it is spread across a huge tax roll that way it literally gets down to pennies, so you know, you’re not going to notice it."

The county has about 325,000 accounts on its property tax rolls, Freeman said, adding that settlements are not uncommon.

Maughan said the county commissioners have tried to limit frivolous or bogus lawsuits, though in this case, settling very likely could have resulted in a lower cost to taxpayers.

"It’s not just about the money that’s individually being paid," said Maughan. "It’s still half a million dollars and that’s going to come out of the economy and there’s a family here that’s suffered and it’s suffered a loss, which is the ultimate sacrifice and we’re certainly very sympathetic to them and know that they had a life span cut short."

Maughan said he is just as frustrated with the fact that Streeter is still a deputy with the Sheriff's Office, a decision made by retiring Sheriff John Whetsel.

A spokesman for the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office did not comment but confirmed Streeter helps with investigations though he no longer drives in emergency situations.

A lawyer for the Porter family told NewsChannel 4 they want to avoid future tragedies through increased training for deputies.

Part of Streeter's sentence involves giving presentations to trainees about the dangers and risks of high-speed chases.