by Candy Priano
November 10, 2006—Even though there are other innocent victims of pursuit in our area [Butte County], you may know about only three: Kristie and Katy were killed and Chicoan Lyle Verry is facially disfigured for life due to a fiery crash after a Yuba City chase. This chase lasted only 30 seconds too; about the same length of time as the Paradise chase. A Yuba City officer attempted a traffic stop of a known car thief and robber at about 4 p.m. in a Sam's Club parking lot. This criminal needed to be caught, but many law enforcement agencies throughout the United States would not have allowed this traffic stop because they knew the suspect would not pull over appropriately and a chase in a highly populated area poses an even greater risk to the public than letting the suspect go.
Letting a suspect go does not mean officers stop apprehension efforts; rather, officers initiate other resources to bring about the apprehension of a suspect. (Source: "The Police Chief" magazine, March 2006)
You have to ask: Did officers involved in these three chases--Chico, Paradise and Yuba City--really think these suspects would pull over appropriately?
Regarding the Paradise chase, Tinnel had already said more than once that he would do ANYTHING to avoid going back to prison. Tinnel did just that and took innocent Katy with him. In the weeks leading up to this chase, Tinnel's female friend led officers to believe she would help turn in Tinnel. However, she never followed through, and she never followed the officers' instructions, according to a lieutenant in the Butte County Sheriff's Department who spoke to me. The officers kept trusting her. Why? In my opinion conducting a high-risk felony traffic stop on a busy, dangerously curved road in the afternoon near a school zone is never more important than the safety of innocent bystanders or the officers themselves.
Since December 2005, 15 innocent victims and two officers have been killed in California chases. In one deadly chase for a stolen car in Bakersfield, an innocent 17-year-old girl was killed and her 2-year-old niece was paralyzed. A Pasadena toddler was killed as he and his father were on their way to get pancakes. Again, the suspect was driving a stolen vehicle. An unborn baby was killed as was a 9-month-old baby girl. The other innocent victims range in age from 20 to 61.
I believe the original version of Kristie's Law in 2004 would have prevented these tragedies and saved all of these law-abiding citizens from becoming victims of pursuit.
In some years, it has been reported that police pursuit crashes in the United States have killed at least 140 innocent victims and at least five peace officers. Although not tracked, a considerable number of innocent people and officers suffer permanent, life-altering injuries: lasting facial and bodily disfigurement due to fiery crashes, amputations, paralysis, and mental impairment. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports these fatalities and admits that these figures are under-reported.
I know they are under-reported because in 2003, two California officers were killed in pursuit-related crashes, but these two deaths are not reflected in NHTSA's 2003 report.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
You are correct that our criminal justice system has fallen apart. Our courts and our jails are revolving doors for felons and parole violators. Makes me wonder why our officers risk their own lives chasing felons and parole violators who most likely will be out on bail within 48 hours or less. D.A. Mike Ramsey told me that even wanted felons have a right to bail.
Regarding the Chico chase that killed my innocent daughter, Kristie Priano, the officers released the teen who fled from police in her mother's RAV 4 after she was treated for minor injuries at the hospital.
Yes, the teen who had to be caught went home with her mother while I stayed at the hospital with Kristie, praying for a miracle. Begs the questions: Why the chase? And, did the killing of Kristie really keep "someone else" safe?
The police report on this chase indicates that the teen and her friend had been driving around Chico for two hours prior to the chase, and she did not kill or injure "someone else." The chase lasted two minutes, the average length for most chases, and at the end of those two minutes Kristie was in a coma with major head trauma and later died. Kristie's dad, brother and I were injured and our lives altered forever. The teen, who officers knew had taken her mother's RAV4 without permission, received one year in juvenile hall and three years probation.
I blame the drivers who flee for these tragedies, and the minimal penalties for fleeing are a slap in the face to innocent victims and officers. Yet, as a victim of pursuit, I also learned that when officers fail to follow their own agency's pursuit policy, two wrongs do not make it right; they make it deadly.
SUSPECTS HAVE MORE RIGHTS
THAN INNOCENT VICTIMS OF PURSUIT
Innocent victims of pursuit in California do not even have the right to discovery to find out in a court of law whether or not officers followed their pursuit policy.
California law enforcement agencies receive blanket immunity even when officers fail to follow their pursuit policy. Here is an excerpt from a ruling made by the judges of California's Fourth Appellate Court on Nov. 26, 2002, regarding a chase in Southern California through a schoolyard when students were present and an innocent man was injured and later died:
"Unfortunately, the adoption of a policy which may never be implemented is cold comfort to innocent bystanders. We do not know if the policy was followed in this instance, and that is precisely the point: We will never know because defendant did not have to prove officers participating in this pursuit followed the policy. WE URGE the Legislature to revisit this statute and seriously reconsider the balance between public entity immunity and public safety. The balance appears to have shifted too far toward immunity and left public safety, as well as compensation for innocent victims, twisting in the wind." For the full comment, read it here.
I certainly blame all fleeing drivers, but that's the point, we cannot put our trust in fleeing drivers to do the right thing so we have to rely on law enforcement to put public safety first and officers to follow their pursuit policies. Can you think of any other public-safety priority where thoughtful policy is developed, adopted, and then legally ignored?
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
IN EVERY PROFESSION
I support law enforcement--always have and still do. But officers are human and there is room for improvement in every profession. Improvement is paramount in matters of public safety.
I invite you to learn more about police chases by reading the Introduction to my e-book, "10 Deadly Secrets Behind Police Chases." Read it right here.
These tragedies are not accidents. They are crashes. I have spoken to hundreds of innocent victims of pursuit and their families from around the world and we all say the same thing: We are victimized again when others say that our innocent loved ones were killed or injured in car accidents. This term minimizes that we are crime victims. If your innocent loved one was killed in this manner, I can assure you that you would call it a violent crash or a crime or a tragedy, but you would never call it an accident.