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Kristie's Law held to give new law a chance

By LARRY MITCHELL - Staff Writer

December 20, 2005 -- Kristie's Law, a bill to restrict police pursuits in California, probably won't be re-introduced next year, according to Paul Deiro, chief of staff to state Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley.

Last year and this year, Aanestad tried but failed to get the measure passed. It was vigorously opposed by police organizations.

Aanestad has vowed to continue pressing to protect the public from injury and death resulting from pursuits. However, his aides said that since another bill on police pursuits became law this year, it seems reasonable to hold off on Kristie's Law for the time being.

Aanestad's bill was named after 15-year-old Kristie Priano of Chico, who died in January of 2002 after the van she was riding in was struck by an SUV being pursued by Chico police.

Kristie's parents, Mark and Candy Priano, asked Aanestad to introduce legislation creating a statewide law on pursuits. The 2005 version of the bill would have allowed pursuits only when police believed a suspect had committed or was likely to commit a violent felony.

Police groups, such as the California Peace Officers Association and the California Sheriffs Association, lobbied hard against Aanestad's bills in 2004 and this year. They argued the restrictions would hamper their ability to catch criminals.

This year, the police groups sponsored a bill on pursuits of their own. Senate Bill 719 passed and was signed by the governor.

Among the provisions of SB719 are periodic pursuit training for officers, public education, stiffer penalties for those who flee, and improved record-keeping concerning pursuits.

The Prianos have dismissed SB719 as little more than window dressing.

Nevertheless, Aanestad's press secretary, Bill Bird, said if the senator reintroduces Kristie's Law this year, he'll be accused of not giving SB719 a chance to work.

Interviewed by phone Tuesday, Candy Priano said she wouldn't be troubled if Aanestad holds off on Kristie's Law next year.

"If that's what Sam decides, I think it's wise," she said. "Let's wait and see."

She noted there seems to be no decline in the numbers of people dying as a result of police pursuits in California and around the nation.

It's estimated around 50 people die as a result of pursuits in California each year, she said. Since Dec. 11, three people have been killed in the state, including a 3-year-old boy. Two of the three were innocent parties.

In all three cases, police were chasing vehicles believed to have been stolen. Priano said the question keeps coming up: Is it worth risking and taking innocent lives to try to recover stolen property?

Staff writer Larry Mitchell can be reached at 896-7759 or lmitchell@chicoer.com.

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