In the midnight hour of April 20, a police chase of a stolen car ended with a bang in Bruce Cusmano’s front yard. The car went off Peachtree-Dunwoody Road, jumped a line of boulders and slammed into Cusmano’s elaborate driveway gate, doing $10,000 in damage.

Bruce Cusmano stands at his Evergreen Drive gate that was damaged in April by a car during a police chase. (Photo John Ruch)

Now Cusmano wants somebody to pay—the city, which says it’s not liable; the driver, who got away; or the car owner’s insurer, who has been hard to reach. Cusmano’s own insurance has a $5,000 deductible, but he said that’s only part of the reason he doesn’t want to foot the bill.

“I can afford to pay the $5,000. I don’t want to,” said Cusmano. He said he’s sticking up for the next person whose property gets damaged by a fleeing criminal and who might be a “low-income person or a retiree on a fixed income.”

Cusmano showed up at the June 7 City Council meeting to voice his complaints and hint at legal action. City attorney Wendell Willard was not about to cut a check.

“There is no liability on the part of the city as there is no negligence on the part of the city,” Willard told the council, adding that any sympathy payment would be a “gratuity improper under the law.”

“His big problem is, he thought he’d be smart and carry a big deductible on his homeowners insurance and now, lo and behold,” he has need of it, Willard said in a later interview.

According to a police report and details Cusmano said officers provided to him, the chase began on Peachtree-Dunwoody at the Concourse Center. Sandy Springs police officers tried to stop a Nissan Sentra reported as stolen, and the driver allegedly hit a police car. The driver then fled down Peachtree-Dunwoody with a large group of police cars in pursuit. The driver lost control while trying to turn onto Evergreen Drive, the corner where Cusmano’s house sits.

“He flew through my yard” and hit the gate from behind, said Cusmano, adding he counted 11 police cars at the scene. The driver fled through Cusmano’s yard and got away, but a passenger was arrested, Cusmano said.

The impact cracked the mortar in the gate’s cobblestone pillar, smashed its electrical control box and left the decorative metal gate hanging askew. Cusmano, who sells similar metalwork at his Chamblee antiques business, said he got a professional repair estimate of $10,000.

He said a police officer who visited the next day indicated the city might reimburse him, but that has not happened.

“I’m not going to claim it on my insurance because, number one, I’ve got a $5,000 deductible,” said Cusmano, adding that the incident wasn’t his fault or a natural accident. “I don’t care who pays for it…but somebody should pay for it—not me.”

Willard said one reason city officials have been cautious in responding to Cusmano is his hints that he might sue them. “I’ve never sued anybody in my life, but these guys have ticked me off…I’ve told Wendell Willard, ‘Do we have to do this the hard way or can we do this the easy way?’” Cusmano said, but later added, “I doubt I’ll get a lawyer involved.”

He also went back and forth on whether he thinks the police are liable. “No, they were doing their job,” he said, but then added they may have gone overboard with a high-speed chase. “Eleven [police] cars—what do you think?” he asked.
Willard said it’s the “criminals” who would be liable, adding he has not heard of a property-damage case like this in the city’s 10-year history.

Cusmano said he did get a phone call from Mayor Rusty Paul and an offer to chat over coffee from Police Chief Ken DeSimone. “I understand your dismay and your consternation,” the mayor told Cusmano at the City Council meeting. But Cusmano said he ultimately felt those officials were dismissive with him, instead of trying to help an innocent bystander. Cusmano said he once served as a city councilmember himself, in Chamblee, and that he would have handled it differently.

“I don’t think it’s their liability,” he said, “but I think it’s their responsibility to help a citizen.”

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.