SHANNON HILLS, Ark. –A mother in central Arkansas says state law prevents her from getting the help she needs after being seriously injured in a car crash caused by a police officer.
In September 2019, Heather Cross was arrested on County Line Road, waiting to turn into Davis Elementary School to pick up her then 5-year-old son. According to an Arkansas State Police accident report, Constable Jose Padilla was responding to a call when he crossed Heather’s lane and hit her head on while pushing his car into a tree.
âIt changes her life forever,â said Heather’s husband Matt Cross. “I listened to these nurses and doctors who came and said, we don’t know, we don’t know if she’s going to live.”
Two years after the accident, Heather had to undergo several surgeries and is still trying to recover from her injuries, including a head trauma.
âWhen your son tells mom that we don’t have the same fun as we used to, it breaks my heart,â Heather said.
Almost a year after the accident, Matt told Fox 16 Investigates in an interview, âWe are living on Social Security disability. We are going up and have to ask for food stamps to make sure my family is fed. “
He says the reality has not changed.
Before the accident, Heather owned a hair salon that the family was forced to close. Matt had to quit his engineering job to be Heather’s full-time caregiver as the family say they can’t afford the long-term care Heather needs.
Currently, Heather’s medical bills are well over $ 1 million. The only payment from the city the family received was $ 25,000, the maximum amount allowed by the city’s limited liability auto insurance.
âI couldn’t even charge them the ambulance bill,â Matt said. âWe don’t have the capacity to continue paying for all of this rehabilitation ourselves. “
No charges have been laid in this case. Arkansas State Police investigators found Constable Padilla at fault. The ministry sent the following statement:
The investigation into the motor vehicle accident involving Heather Cross and Jose Padilla has been referred to the Saline County prosecutor to determine whether a criminal charge should be filed based on the findings of state police. Submission of investigative reports to a prosecutor is standard protocol for a state soldier assigned to a traffic accident involving serious injury or death. (* See email to Susan El Khoury, July 8, 2020, subject line, kark_klrt_elkhoury_shannon hills crash investigation_07082020)
Arkansas State Police have not been made aware of any criminal proceedings in this matter.
The investigation file remains intact and nothing has changed with respect to any facts or circumstances arising from the investigation that could cause the state police to change or amend our statement provided for your report of the 14th. July 2020.
If the Cross family brings a civil action against Constable Padilla or the town of Shannon Hills for damages in excess of the amount already awarded, the state soldier who investigated the accident would be subject to a subpoena. appear and could be called to testify on his investigative files.
The Saline County district attorney decided not to press charges, which the district attorney and police department declined to comment.
âThere is no question that this badge is what kept this officer from being held accountable for his actions,â said Matt.
The Cross family continues to highlight the Arkansas Sovereign Immunity Act, which says the state cannot be sued in its own courts. The law dates back to colonial times and was put in place to protect England and the King. Most states have changed immunity laws. Arkansas remains one of the three states with the strictest immunity laws.
Senator Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) is behind a push to change this law.
âIt needs to be fixed,â Clark said. âWe need to be able to sue the state. “
Earlier this year, he introduced a bill to end sovereign immunity, but the bill failed to get out of committee.
“How do you write it to make sure you take care of that, but then you don’t take care of all the other little things you just have people going to court every day to sue the state.” Clark added.
Clark says he plans to reintroduce a bill dealing with sovereign immunity, but he also calls on other lawmakers to step in by saying it should be one of the top three issues that should be addressed during the next legislative session.
However, he says one thing is clear, what happened to Heather needs a closer look.
âIt doesn’t sound like justice,â Clark said. “It doesn’t sound like what would happen if I were the one to hit them, for example, so it doesn’t sound like what should happen if the state of Arkansas does.”
Heather knows she needs lifelong help, but may never get the financial help she needs,
âThis 7 year old girl is the reason I’m still here, it’s my goal,â Heather said of her son Hunter.