Fatal chases won’t alter Louisa policy
Over the decades, retired Police Chief D.P. Van Blaricom and PursuitSAFETY Advisory Board member said, he has seen many police departments write more restrictive policies but not follow them. For a policy to work, he said, officers need to be trained in it and understand the consequences of not following it.
by TASHA KATES
Published: August 9, 2008
Two deadly crashes this year likely will not alter the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office’s policies on pursuits.
Once a year, Sheriff’s Office officials review all the agency’s rules and guidelines and update them as necessary. The policy on pursuits, however, won’t be changing based on the fatal wrecks, according to Maj. Donald A. Lowe.
“The policy is accredited by Virginia,” Lowe said.
It was in place on Memorial Day, when the first of two fatal pursuits took place. Quentin Aaron Lewis, a 19-year-old from Maryland, ended up dying after he crashed a stolen Geo Metro during a seven-minute chase along Route 22.
On June 7, 36-year-old Michael R. Duncan Jr. died after he lost control of his car on Route 619. He was being pursued by two Louisa deputies because authorities said he was armed and had threatened to kill his mother and the first deputy he saw.
Louisa’s chase policy is more like a set of guidelines, Lowe said. Deputies are supposed to assess if the person is a threat to the public and to themselves, the amount of traffic, where the chase is taking place and what sort of crime that person is alleged to have committed.
If the deputy knows the driver, Lowe said, he would go to the driver’s house rather than give chase. Pursuits may last longer if the deputy is chasing someone who has committed a violent felony, such as a robbery, rape or shooting. Lowe said people accused of shoplifting or other misdemeanors probably wouldn’t find themselves involved in a chase.
“Attempt to elude is a felony in itself,” Lowe said. “We don’t chase to chase.”
Police pursuit policies vary by department and by state, but officers’ beliefs about chases often are the same, according to pursuit expert D.P. Van Blaricom.
The retired police chief from Bellevue, Wash., said law enforcement officials often believe myths about why someone would run from the police.
“One is if they’re running, there must be a body in the trunk,” Van Blaricom said. “The other one is that if we don’t chase everyone who runs from us, everyone will run from us.”
Over the decades, Van Blaricom said, he has seen many police departments write more restrictive policies but not follow them. For a policy to work, he said, officers need to be trained in it and understand the consequences of not following it.
Van Blaricom also said he sees a trend of police departments reporting that they were getting ready to call off a chase or just about to call it off when a wreck happened. Such was the case with the Lewis pursuit; Louisa Sheriff Ashland D. Fortune has said he had just walked into the office to call off the high-speed chase when the car crashed.
Van Blaricom is skeptical of the frequency of such claims. “The timing could not be fortuitous so often,” he said.
Fortune did not return multiple calls for comment for this story.
According to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 12 people died in Virginia in 2006 in connection with police pursuits. Of these people, one was a law enforcement officer, eight were in the vehicle being chased and three were in other vehicles not involved in the chase. Nationally, 404 people died in 2006 in connection with these crashes. Virginia was one of three states to have an officer die in a police pursuit that year.
One of Louisa’s high-speed chases will be profiled on the small screen on Sept. 1. The Biography Channel will feature the chase of Christie A. Coates on its new show, “Why I Ran.” Coates, who left her New Jersey home in April 2006 to go to the store, ended up crashing her car into a house in Ferncliff. Police said she stole the keys to a Ford Explorer from the house and took off west on Interstate 64.
“She had stopped taking her medication,” Lowe said. “She thought a bomb would go off if she stopped.”
Deputies finally stopped Coates with a rolling roadblock. She was originally charged with several felonies, including three counts of attempted murder of a police office, but the charges against her were dropped.
Copyrighted article reprinted with permission.