Police chases under scrutiny after I-95 deaths


Wrong-way crashes

August 2007: Marvin Gillett was driving east on westbound Interstate 595 when he crashed into another car, killing himself and three others. He was drunk and driving on a suspended license.

February 2007: a man driving the wrong way on Interstate 95 hit another car, killing an 18-year-old University of Miami student. In another tragic event, a Miami man who police say had kidnapped his former girlfriend drove into oncoming traffic on Interstate 95, hitting and killing Sandra Gilmore, a longtime hospital secretary.

February 2006: a Honda and a Nissan collided in the northbound lanes of Florida’s Turnpike just south of the Miami-Dade-Broward county line. Three people died.

November 2005: A motorist driving erratically on a wet highway sparked a chain of events that left Laquinta Taika Brunson, 25, dead and led to six separate crashes on Interstate 95

2004: Three people died in two separate wrong-way crashes, including a 22-year-old student on her way to Miami International Airport to pick up her parents. The driver of the other car was drunk.

November 1999: Two Lauderhill brothers were killed in a crash on I-95 as they drove north back to college. At first, investigators blamed the crash on the brothers but later decided that the other driver, an FBI agent, was traveling the wrong way. He was convicted of six misdemeanors.

December 1998: Santiago Quintana, 58, was killed when he lost control of his vehicle east of Interstate 95 at Miami Gardens Drive and Northeast Eighth Avenue. Quintana, who was alone in the car, crossed over the center median and into the eastbound lane. His Toyota Corolla collided with a Ford Explorer.

March 1995: Elionne Joseph, 35, was killed while she was driving home. A car full of burglary suspects, followed by the police, sped off Interstate 95 and crashed into her left side, pushing her car 140 feet. The 15-year-old driver of the other car and one of his three passengers also died.


A year later, and there’s still no closure for Denise McConnell.

“It’s just a feeling of a big hole there,’’ said McConnell, whenever she thinks about how her 61-year-old husband Christopher was taken from her. “It was such a shock. You don’t’ expect anything like this.”

Two suspects fleeing Broward Sheriff Office deputies, plowed into bicyclist Chris McConnell and another biker, killing them instantly.

The suspects were accused of stealing items from unlocked cars. Witnesses later said several deputies followed the suspects at high speeds with lights flashing, even though BSO prohibits such chases except in cases of violent felonies.

Police chases and the rules that govern them are coming under scrutiny again after a Wednesday morning crash left four dead on Interstate 95.

A driver fleeing Opa-locka police officers drove his Chevy Suburban SUV the wrong way on I-95 and slammed into a minivan carrying four people.

Opa-locka police said the chase started when the driver made an illegal right turn, but ended before the deadly accident

“I know there are supposed to be policies. I do think the police cause accidents involving innocent people some times,” McConnell said. “My husband could have very well been a victim of that. There is that big question.”

Experts say it isn’t easy to scrutinize cases like the Opa-locka police chase after everything is over.

“There is no crystal ball,” said Ret. Capt. Thomas Gleason, a police academy instructor in Tallahassee. “Police have to do the best they can do at that moment. It’s easy to talk about the what ifs eight hours later.”

A department’s policy is the guide, Gleason said.

“The key is going to be, Did they follow their own policy? We know that pursuits are dangerous and police pursuits have done a lot of changing over the years. “

In South Florida, most police agencies have strict policies that only allow a chase if the driver has been involved in a violent felony .

“We basically can’t chase unless it’s a serious crime like a rape, homicide or aggravated assault,” said Miami Beach police spokesperson Bobby Hernandez. “We never chase on property crimes like a theft or simple traffic stops.”

Opa-locka did not provide the Miami Herald a copy of its policy, but said it is modeled after recommendations made by the Miami-Dade County Association of Chiefs of Police.

North Miami said it also uses the association’s rules as a guide.

The agency can only pursue chases for violent felonies and there are a number of conditions that determine when to consider ending a chase, according to North Miami spokesman Neal Cuevas.

Among them, when there is equipment failure; when the subject goes the wrong way on a local street and when there’s a clear or unreasonable danger to the officer, suspect or the public.

Police agencies have moved toward stricter rules when engaging in a chase because of consequences that often are deadly.

“When I first began my training in the ‘70s, we would pursue for minor violations, a busted light, running a stop sign,” said Gleason, the police instructor. “A lot of agencies — not all but many — have changed their policies to be more restrictive.”

According to a 2010 report published on the Federal Bureau of Investigations bulletin, innocent bystanders who happened to be in the way account for 42 percent of victims killed or injured in police pursuits, and one out of every 100 high-speed pursuits result in a fatality.

For the families of bystanders killed during police chases the emotional toll is lasting.

“ I strongly support no chase unless there is a violent felony,” said Jon Farris, head of Pursuit Safety, a national nonprofit that provides support to the families of victims killed or injured during police chases. Farris’ 23-year-old son died when a suspect being chased by Massachusetts police slammed into a taxi he was riding in. Farris’ son died on impact.

The suspect had been accused of an illegal U-turn, Farris said.

Still, he said, “a city could have an excellent policy and innocent people can still be exposed because of an individual officer’s actions.”

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