“We’re now going northbound in the southbound lanes,’’ Cpl. Sergio Perez tells dispatchers, his voice rising as a siren wails in the background.
Moments later, he is heard uttering “Oh, my god.” The SUV he had been pursuing had crashed head-on into a minivan, killing four people and leaving a trail of engine parts and debris scattered across Interstate 95 under a post-midnight half moon.
The brief recording of his dispatches before Wednesday’s grisly wrong-way crash sheds fresh light on what happened just after 1 a.m. Wednesday on I-95 slightly north of Ives Dairy Road.
It was Willie Dumel, not Perez, who made the fateful decision to flee north in the southbound lanes. What’s at issue is whether Perez truly did, as his department insists, discontinue the pursuit when Dumel entered I-95 heading in the wrong direction, hurtling toward oncoming traffic.
The victims of the ensuing crash were identified Thursday. They include three tourists and a 26-year-old Fort Lauderdale woman.
Perez, 26, who engaged in the pursuit after witnessing what he said in his report was a minor traffic infraction, has had a bumpy career. He was fired from Miami Shores Police Department, kicked out of the police academy and, as a recruit, arrested for causing a nasty crash while drag-racing off duty.
Questions have also been raised about his decision to initiate the pursuit, and to continue it well beyond Opa-locka’s jurisdiction.
The department’s own pursuit policy prohibits officers from continuing a chase that goes against the flow of traffic. In addition, Opa-locka’s policy allows pursuits only in the case of serious felonies such as murder, rape and robberies.
A copy of the police report, briefly viewed by The Miami Herald but not yet formally released, indicated that Perez attempted to pull over the SUV at Northwest 22nd Avenue and 144th Street in Opa-locka for what the report calls “an improper right turn.’’
Dumel sped off, hopping onto the interstate at the Golden Glades interchange, going the proper direction. Perez told dispatchers that the suspect was northbound and driving recklessly.
Dumel exited at Ives Dairy Road, then suddenly turned right and headed down the southbound exit ramp, going north.
Perez, Opa-locka City Manager David Chiverton reiterated Thursday, “cut off the pursuit and did not follow northbound the wrong way.”
But radio transmissions appear to tell a different story.
During most of the pursuit, there is no urgency in Perez’s voice and no sound of a siren in the background. Perez never mentions the reason for the pursuit or any traffic infraction, although he describes the occupant or occupants of the SUV as “a possible 29,’’ indicating robbery suspect.
But minutes into the radio dispatches, Perez’s voice sounds alarmed.
“This guy is all over the road,’’ Perez says, his siren now audible in the background. “Now he’s going against traffic on I-95. We’re going northbound in the southbound lanes.”
He then adds: “The subject threw a 55 out the window. I don’t know when though … Oh my god …’’ The 55 is a reference to a firearm, which police said they recovered.
Seconds later, Perez announces he has the suspect in custody at gunpoint. He then asks for assistance to help victims trapped in the minivan, crumpled in a heap a few yards away.