Wrongful death suit moves forward in federal court

  • Former Hawaii County police officer Jody Buddemeyer addresses the court as the widow and two sons of Jeffrey Surnow, who was killed in a 2015 crash involving Buddemeyer, pictured far right, await a sentencing Nov. 30 by 3rd Circuit Court Judge Melvin Fujino. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — A wrongful death lawsuit against a former Hawaii County police officer is moving forward with a trial scheduled in federal court in June.

On Tuesday, counsels for the defense and plaintiffs met in U.S. District Court in Honolulu for a status conference. According to the minutes, depositions and mediation were set for April 4. The trial is scheduled for June 25 before Chief Judge J. Michael Seabright.

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Mark Davis, counsel for plaintiffs Elaine Surnow and her children Max, Sam and Lisa, said the suit lies within federal jurisdiction because his clients are not residents of Hawaii. The family is suing former officer Jody Buddemeyer, Hawaii County and the Hawaii Police Department for the wrongful death of husband and father, Jeffrey Surnow, 69, of Michigan, after he was fatally struck by the former officer while riding a bicycle on Waikoloa Road on March 1, 2015.

While no settlements have been discussed at this point, Davis said, they are “gearing up for trial.”

Davis said the Surnow family has been devastated by the tragedy.

“He was an extraordinary philanthropic person,” Davis said of Surnow Tuesday. “He championed charitable causes.”

Buddemeyer was criminally charged in 3rd Circuit Court in October 2016 in connection to the crash.

During the October trial, evidence presented showed Buddemeyer struck Surnow from behind while traveling east on Waikoloa Road in his police subsidized vehicle. The prosecution asserted throughout the trial the former officer falsely reported the crash when he called it into dispatch as a hit-and-run.

Jurors acquitted the former officer of evidence tampering and false reporting and found him guilty of negligent homicide in a lesser offense.

In November, 3rd Circuit Court Judge Melvin Fujino sentenced Buddemeyer to one year probation. Special conditions include that he will be committed to the Department of Public Safety where he will be monitored for 60 days with electronic monitoring.

Buddemeyer will appear back in court on Dec. 28 to determine whether he plans to appeal the sentence.

The civil suit was filed in January 2017. The movement on the case was slow because lawyers were awaiting the outcome of the criminal trial.

On Tuesday, Steven Chow, counsel for the county and police department, said while they are talking about doing mediation, they are waiting for the criminal appeal period to run out, which is 30 days after sentencing.

Davis said he hopes and expects to have this case resolved by trial.

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“His death should’ve never occurred. His death was completely avoidable,” Davis said of Surnow. “It’s a tragedy every way we look at it.”

Attempts to reach Leslie R. Kop, counsel for Buddemeyer, for comment on this story were unsuccessful.

  1. KonaDude December 19, 2018 3:29 am

    This is a very sad situation, but they always seem to boil down to a pursuit of a payday( . Y . )


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