Homeowner’s liability claim denied by St. Louis City after suspects crash in yard

A homeowner might be out of luck paying for property damage done to her home by criminals, followed closely by police.
Published: May. 18, 2023 at 7:13 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - A homeowner might be out of luck paying for property damage done to her home by criminals, followed closely by police.

Danella Watkins has lived at her Columbus Square home for 13 years. She shared a video of the January 9 incident with News 4, which shows a white Hyundai sedan slam into the side of the home, following gunshots just seconds afterwards. Three suspects get out of the car and begin to run down the street as several St. Louis Police cars arrive.

The car smashed into the side of a large pine tree before careening into the side of the home, scraping up the bricks, uprooting bushes and taking out a retaining wall. Much of that damage remains four months later.

Watkins runs her local health supplies business from inside the home and sells the goods at Soulard Farmers Market. She says she hoped to get some help from the city, filing a liability claim with them for the damage before going to insurance. That claim was denied Wednesday, leaving Watkins out more than $1,000.

“I choose not to pay for it because... the city should take some responsibility,” Watkins said.

Watkins claims city code inspectors told her the damage meant her home was in violation of city property ordinances.

“After reviewing your claim, I regret to inform you we’ll be unable to accept liability,” the letter from the St. Louis City Counselor’s Office says in part. “The St. Louis Metro Police Department acted lawfully with their apprehension of the suspects involved in the damage to your property.”

St. Louis Police tell News 4 they don’t consider the incident a ‘pursuit’, saying it only started a few blocks down the road. Police first noticed that the white sedan was stolen, then heard the gunshots shortly after and drove in that direction. Watkins doesn’t buy that.

“The police was chasing them,” Watkins said. “You can see them on my camera.”

They instead describe it as a drug deal gone bad, where the suspects, all men between 19 and 21 years old, were trying to purchase narcotics and got into an argument with another group. SLMPD quickly found and arrested the men for tampering and outstanding warrants, but they were released after the Circuit Attorney’s Office did not make a charging decision.

News 4 reached out to the Mayor’s office to ask what the standard is for the city to help out, but a spokesperson says they cannot comment on specific cases and liability claims. An attorney who used to work in the office tells News 4 that, absent an unjustified police chase, Watkins might be out of luck.