Editorial: Police pursuit
law is overdue
- Lawmakers should stand firm
Ventura County Star
April 14, 2004—Last year, The Star Editorial Board asked: "What will it take to change police pursuits?" We were
dismayed by the arrogance and disregard the California Highway Patrol
exhibited toward the Oxnard family that lost its precious 18-year-old
daughter in a police pursuit March 23, 2002.
An investigation by the Ventura County District Attorney's Office
concluded a CHP officer bore most of the responsibility for the fatal
crash that day. He was driving about 85 mph in pursuit of an alleged
speeder, without emergency lights or siren, on Oxnard Boulevard, when
he slammed into the vehicle containing driver Christopher Haynes and
his girlfriend, Jessica Mohorko, who died at the scene.
In a report on the crash, Senior Deputy District Attorney William
Haney urged the CHP to re-examine its high-speed driving guidelines and
place more restrictions on when high-speed chases are allowed. The
state even had to pay a $1.4 million settlement to the Mohorko family.
The CHP's response, to quote CHP spokesman Tom Marshall: "There's nothing wrong with our policies."
Jessica Mohorko's death and the tragic deaths of hundreds of other
innocent victims of high-speed police chases belie that coldhearted,
arrogant response. Thankfully, someone in a position to do something
about it is not intimidated by police and their lobbyists' threats.
State Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, has introduced a law,
Senate Bill 1403 (formerly 1866), that allows police vehicle pursuits only if "imminent peril" to the public exists, and also eases
restrictions shielding police from civil lawsuits if proposed statewide
pursuit guidelines are disregarded. The law makes clear that imminent
peril means an immediate injury or loss of life is about to occur. It
states, "A likelihood of mere possibility of injury or loss of
life is not sufficient to create an imminent peril."
The law will be heard next week in the Senate Public Safety
Committee, after being held over from Tuesday, with an amendment to
clarify the liability standard.
The Star Editorial Board urges support for this law, which is long
In 2001 -- the latest date for which statistics are available from
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration -- 365 fatalities
were reported nationwide as a result of police vehicle pursuits.
California had 51 fatalities, 24 of those innocent bystanders, more
than any other state.
Sen. Aanestad's law is called Kristie's law, after 15-year-old
Kristie Priano, of Chico, who died when police chased a teenage girl
who had taken her mother's car without permission. The driver slammed
into the Priano family's minivan on Jan. 22, 2002. Kristie died seven
Currently, law enforcement agencies have a variety of guidelines
regarding when vehicle pursuits are appropriate. Some, notably in Los
Angeles, Orange and Sacramento counties, have cracked down on their
pursuits. After a 5-week-old boy's arm was severed in a high-speed
chase in 2002, the Los Angeles Police Department banned pursuits for
minor infractions. That led to a 62 percent decline in the number of
chases and fewer injuries and deaths.
Sen. Aanestad's law would create a statewide pursuit standard and
implement common-sense provisions, such as requiring pursuing vehicles
to have on a forward-facing red light and siren. Law enforcement and
the public should embrace this proposed law for no other reason than
that it will save innocent lives.