Mother of ECU intern killed in Highway Patrol crash files claim against state & troopers

Published: May. 20, 2022 at 5:49 PM EDT|Updated: May. 23, 2022 at 1:35 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - The mother of an East Carolina University student who was killed nearly two years ago while riding as an intern with the Highway Patrol has filed claims against two troopers and the state.

Michael Higgins, of Hertford, was a 22-year-old criminal justice major at ECU who was part of an internship program with the Highway Patrol.

Lisa Higgins has sued Trooper Omar Romero and Trooper Brandon Cruz, while also filing a wrongful death claim with the North Carolina Industrial Commission, naming the Highway Patrol, the Department of Public Safety, and ECU.

Higgins died when Romero’s cruiser crashed on Smithtown Road outside of Grimesland during a high-speed chase.

The lawsuit says neither trooper was qualified to have an intern in their patrol cruisers. It says Higgins had ridden with Cruz before, but the trooper suggested he contact Romero as Cruz could not do another ride-along on the intended evening.

Early on August 22, 2020, according to the lawsuit, Higgins was in Romero’s cruiser when the trooper decided to take the student to an accident scene that was being investigated by Cruz.

The lawsuit says Cruz told Romero about a woman who “smelled drunk”, and that he should “go stop her.” It says the chase lasted less than 30 seconds, reaching speeds of 110 miles per hour and ended when Romero lost control of his cruiser in a curve, hitting a telephone pole, a fence, and several trees. Higgins died at the scene, while Romero survived the crash.

Lawyers for the mother claim both troopers were grossly negligent and their actions caused the student’s death.

The lawsuit says Romero broke Highway Patrol policies that prohibit ride-alongs in cruisers during chases, and that neither trooper notified their communications center that a chase was being initiated.

The mother is seeking $1 million in damages from the state, and an unspecified amount from the two troopers.

Both the Highway Patrol and ECU would not comment on the filing of the claim against them.

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