Police Chases and Wrongful Death
Turn on the TV today and you can almost always find video of a wild police chase on your local news or on one of the many programs dedicated to turning police work into entertainment. It's no wonder that most people are desensitized to the images. Yet, a few of us sit back and wonder how they get away with it, recklessly chasing suspects at high speeds, placing innocent drivers and pedestrians in danger, sometimes intentionally ramming the vehicle out of control, and almost always ending in a spectacular crash. For some, the high speed chase has become a spectator sport. For those who are suddenly and violently injured or killed or watch their child die in an automobile accident caused by a reckless police chase, it is no game.
Police chases create a dangerous situation for everyone involved. The most tragic, end in the death of innocent bystanders, sometimes children, when police go to extreme lengths pursuing suspects for minor violations. Some agencies, counties, and states are changing their policies to limit extreme pursuits to cases where a violent felony is involved.
For instance, in June, 2005 Salt Lake County changed from a policy which allowed officers to chase suspects for any type of violation, to only allowing pursuit of those suspected of violent felonies. In an interview with KSL Eyewitness News, Captain Tracy Tingey of the Salt Lake Police Department, explained, "To try to justify why you killed someone in a traffic accident during the course of a pursuit when the car was stolen or even worse, when the plates were just expired or something like that. And I've seen that happen time and time again throughout the years. It just can't continue."
While public outcry is resulting in change, many departments still follow vague and loose chase policies, leaving the decision up to officer discretion and allowing dangerous, high speed pursuits of suspects for minor, non-violent infractions. Yet, it is a known fact that reducing the number of chases, by eliminating frivolous pursuits, can significantly reduce serious injuries and deaths. According to Dr. Geoffrey Alpert, professor of criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, "Research shows that approximately 40% of all pursuits result in a crash, 20% result in an injury and 1% result in a death."
The danger is well known, yet the carnage continues
As recently as April, 2007, fatal police chases around the country are still in the headlines.
- A nine-month-old baby was killed in a fatal police pursuit on April 6, 2007, in Alvarado, Texas, after police used spikes to deflate the tires of the vehicle in which the baby was riding.
- In Iowa, 20 year-old Kody Krager died on April 18, from injuries he sustained in a head-on collision with a police car while he was being chased for traffic violations. While attempting to join the already ongoing pursuit, the officer involved in the accident was driving into the sun and could not see. The Iowa State Patrol says it does not plan to review its chase policy in light of Krager's death.
- On April 23, 24-year-old Rikki Sanchez, mother of two, was killed in a police chase in Houston, Texas, when her truck was hit by the suspect's vehicle and rammed into a brick home. The Houston Police Department (HPD) has a history of fatal pursuits, including one which resulted in the death of a 12 year-old boy in 2006, and in 2005, the death of a 40 year-old bystander. Former HPD officer, Tom Nixon was fired in 2006 for speaking out against the departments dangerous chase policy, after a chase in which a young girl was injured.
Victim's families can do something to help stop the madness
Also making headlines in 2007, are stories of loved ones making headway against these types of tragedies. In February, 2007, the family of Christopher Harris reached a $200,000 wrongful death settlement with the town of Pembroke, North Carolina. Their son was killed in a 16 mile high speed chase that was initiated due to a minor fender bender. The family of Gabriel McMillan, a passenger killed in the crash, received a $75,000 settlement.
Olivia Banks received a $1 million settlement from the City of Hampton, Georgia, after her daughter, Grashaunda Banks was killed in 2000, at the age of 22, when her Ford Explorer was hit head on by a suspect who was being chased by police for a traffic violation.
Money can never replace lost loved ones, but if you ask victims' families, they will tell you that what they really want to see is an end to dangerous chase policies, so no one else has to loose their child or loved one in a frivolous police chase. When danger, death, disabling injuries, and public outcry aren't enough to inspire change in policies, financial loss may be the only motivating factor left to effect change.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a police chase, contact an experienced police chase accident attorney today.