Another Police Chase: More Deaths
We read last week on the internet of a tragic story out of Parsons, Kansas. Unfortunately, the Kansas story is all too familiar and occurs each and every day in this country. What we refer to are dangerous and reckless police chase cases which regrettably and tragically all too often result in the deaths of innocent members of the public, unconnected to the chase, who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The report we read out of Parsons, Kansas was one such occurrence.
On July 16, 2009, a young man was being pursued allegedly for suspicion of drunk driving when during the high speed pursuit he ran through an intersection at a high rate of speed killing a mother and her daughter in a horrific collision. The mother survived a few days in the hospital prior to her death and the 13-year old daughter was killed leaving the husband and father grief stricken for the rest of his life. Undoubtedly, the fleeing suspect was the primary culprit for this and due to his mistake in fleeing from the police at high speeds he was sentenced to life imprisonment for the deaths he caused by his actions. However, in this case, as in many other police chase cases, the conduct of the police must also be scrutinized.
The country’s leading expert on the dangers associated with high speed pursuits is Professor Geoffrey Alpert of the University of South Carolina. Professor Alpert oftentimes has commented upon the wisdom of pursuing suspected drunk drivers during high speed pursuits. The rhetorical question he asks is: Which is more dangerous, a drunk driver or a drunk driver being chased at speeds as high as 100 miles per hour? Obviously, a drunk driver being impaired is dangerous but to increase the danger to the public by chasing a drunk driver at high speeds is obviously even more dangerous and can result in the loss of innocent life as happened in Parsons, Kansas.
The newspaper accounts of the Kansas case do not provide enough detail to determine whether the police in that case recklessly disregarded proper police procedure. However, a legitimate question can be raised as to whether the pursuit of a suspected drunk driver justifies a high speed pursuit which thereby exponentially endangers each and every member of the public. While it seems counter-intuitive that sometimes the police must back off of a high speed pursuit and use other tactics to apprehend such a driver such as stop sticks, roadblocks, radioing ahead to other officers, etc., the fact is that a high speed pursuit is likely to drive such a driver up the road at higher and higher speeds creating greater and greater danger, particularly if during the chase intersections are to be crossed.
Our firm has been involved in several police chase cases where during which the fleeing suspect ran numerous red lights, traveling through intersections at speeds as high as 100 miles per hour. We have been in cases just like the one in Kansas where our clients just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. In one case, an entire family was wiped out including a mother, a daughter, and an unborn grandchild, as well as a son-in-law. In another case, a fiancé soon to be married was killed. In another case, a young lady soon to graduate from college was killed. The fact is that all these cases are tragically all too similar. If you chase a fleeing suspect at a 100 miles per hour in an area where other cars are on the road and are likely to be traversing intersections, the question is whether such a pursuit should be terminated? Without much thought, oftentimes the public might reflectively say “no” they want the suspect caught; however, if the member of the public being asked is the victim’s surviving family, the question will be answered in an entirely different way.
The death of innocent third parties unconnected to the suspected DUI is an extremely high price to pay to apprehend a suspected drunk driver. Query, would the public be more endangered by the drunk driver if he were attempted to be apprehended using tactics other than a high speed pursuit (radio, surveillance, tag searches, etc.), rather than pursuing a drunk driver traveling at speeds of 100 miles per hour approaching numerous intersections controlled by red lights? History in these cases proves time and time again that such pursuits should be terminated if other vehicles are on the road because otherwise it is reckless to continue such a pursuit and death of the innocent is a distinct possibility.