COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The bystander who was seriously injured during a deadly shootout between El Paso County deputies, Colorado Springs police officers and an auto-theft suspect in February plans on suing the county and the city of Colorado Springs for at least $1 million after being left paralyzed.
Thomas Villanueva Jr. was walking back to his apartment at Murray Hills on Feb. 5 when he was caught in the crossfire between authorities and theft suspect Manny Zetina. Zetina and El Paso County Deputy Micah Flick were killed in that shootout, and several officers were injured.
Villanueva was hit by a bullet that went through his side and lung, and he was paralyzed from the chest down as a result. El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder said Villanueva was an "innocent bystander" who was "caught in the wrong place at the wrong time."
In a message to Newschannel 13 this week, Villanueva said he is currently paying his extensive medical bills out of pocket, and it will likely take two years for his back to heal.
On March 23, El Paso County received a notice from Villanueva's lawyer, Russell Araya with the Ramos Law firm, about a pending lawsuit for damages related to the incident.
The City of Colorado Springs received one as well.
The notice of claim is required when a governmental entity is sued, as part of Colorado's Governmental Immunity Act.
According to the Colorado Municipal League, governmental entities are normally immue to tort claims.
However, claims that are the result of "willful and wanton" conduct are an exception to the rule.
The notice says "the resulting injuries were caused by El Paso County Sheriff deputies and Colorado Springs Police Department officers while in pursuit of a suspect." It's not yet known if Villanueva was struck by a bullet fired by police, deputies, or Zetina.
Araya says the lawsuit seeks reimbursement for economic and non-economic losses, "which continue to accumulate." Araya said a complete estimate of damages isn't possible right now, but they expect to exceed $1 million.
A GoFundMe account for Villanueva was launched shortly after the shooting and raised close to $30,000 for his medical expenses.