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March 3, 2003

High-speed pursuit not worth the risk

We're not in favor of outlawing police chases, but we are in favor of police using better judgment to decide when to end pursuits. A case of wise judgment was displayed last week in Chico, and the California Highway Patrol should be commended for it.

While the CHP deserves credit, so does the Priano family of Chico. Their vigilance to raise the awareness of appropriate police pursuits likely played a role.

Four bills on police pursuit guidelines are winding their way through the Legislature, including one by Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley. Aanestad's bill was introduced at the request of Mark and Candy Priano. Their 15-year-old daughter, Kristie, was killed last year when their family van was struck by a sport utility vehicle Chico police were chasing in a dark residential area west of The Esplanade. The driver of the SUV was a 15-year-old girl who had taken her mother's car.

There's some question whether police should have been chasing the "stolen" vehicle at all. That's why the Priano family would like to see legislation that reduces police pursuits for minor infractions.

The law would create a major incentive for police to follow their departments' written policy on pursuits. As it stands now, police are immune from lawsuits as long as they have a written policy — whether that policy was followed or not. The law would also, the Prianos hope, increase the crime for people who flee police.

The Priano incident was on the minds of the CHP on Tuesday morning after a motorcyclist was seen traveling more than 90 mph on Highway 99 north of Chico. The motorcyclist exited the highway at Cohasset Road and headed toward The Esplanade.

Traveling more than 60 mph, he turned onto Eighth Avenue, where the CHP gave up the pursuit. A CHP captain noted the location was near where the accident that killed Priano occurred, and said that entered into the decision to stop.

The CHP was wise to call off the pursuit. It wasn't worth chasing the motorcyclist over a speeding ticket.

Police did comb the neighborhood for a half-hour and sighted the man on the blue Suzuki several times but couldn't get close enough to stop him. An Enterprise-Record photographer heard the chase on the scanner and went to the Eighth Avenue area. He saw the suspect nearly crash while running over a sidewalk. Later, he snapped a photo of the man as he sped down Meadow Road. That photo ran on the front page of Wednesday's newspaper. Surprisingly, nobody called the CHP to identify the man.

If nothing else, the man called a "knuckle-head" by a CHP officer is guilty of incredibly bad timing. Just 24 hours before, a 21-year-old was killed by a high-speed driver on The Esplanade.

The question now is whether unlawful drivers know they can ditch the cops by barreling through residential areas. Is that why the motorcyclist ran, because he knew the police wouldn't follow? Maybe. But nobody was hurt and — given the damning photo in the newspaper he still may be caught. Citizens who recognize the driver should do their part by calling the CHP at 979-1999. The man shouldn't be allowed to get away with endangering a community.
Copyrighted article reprinted with permission.  

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