EXCLUSIVE: Family seeks justice as son fights to survive

By Cristina Rendon

Published 10/25 2012 08:20PM

Updated 10/25 2012 10:32PM

MURRAY, Utah (ABC4 News) – The family of a man hit by a suspected drunk driver is speaking out against South Salt Lake Police saying the crash could have been prevented if officers had not pursued the suspect in a high speed chase.

Eric Peterson, 22, is in a coma on life support at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray.

“This should have never happened,” Tina Naujokaitis, Eric’s mother said with tears in her eyes. “My son was young, vibrant. He loved life and he loved people.”

Peterson and his girlfriend Baylee King were in a red Mitsubishi Eclipse at a stop light intersection on 3300 South and 500 East Sunday morning.

Ryan Cooke, a suspected drunk driver, crashed into the back of Peterson’s car, sending him and King to the hospital.

Cooke was driving a South Salt Lake police unit he allegedly stole from a Flying J parking lot.

The officer of the patrol car was on break and left the keys in the ignition. The officer unlocked the car using a key less remote, but could not see Cooke near the vehicle because a van was blocking his view.

Peterson’s family believes South Salt Lake Police are responsible for the accident.

“There needs to be a change in chase laws,” Michael Peterson, Eric’s father, said. “The criminal was forced into this as far as trying to get away and innocent people were hurt.”

The family hopes security changes are implemented to prevent another accident involving a high speed chase.

A spokesman for South Salt Lake Police tells ABC4 News officers decide to pursue a suspect on a case by case basis, but would not speak specifically on the case due to several pending investigations.

There were weapons in the car which may have been a deciding factor for police to pursue a high speed chase.

Peterson has severe brain damage and multiple injuries. King has since been released from the hospital.

“He’s a fighter, but this could have been prevented so there's a lot of anger,” J.W. Yates, Eric’s uncle, said.

The family wants any witnesses who may have been at the Flying J Truck Stop Sunday morning to come forward.

They hope the community’s prayers and support will help Eric get justice.

“We know it's in God's hands,” Yates said. “We can only do so much.”

Peterson’s family is from California. They have put their life on hold to be by Eric’s bedside.

“My son will never be the same,” Naujokaitis added.

The family wishes to express their thanks to the staff at IMC hospital for their extensive treatment and care. They said without their support, Eric would not be alive.

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