ROBERTSDALE, Ala. (WALA) – A high-speed chase that led to a deadly, fiery crash on Monday took place despite a Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office policy that prohibits them except as a “last resort.”
The department’s standard operating procedure cautions against chasing drivers who have committed minor offenses. They should be used only when the driver poses an immediate risk to the public, according to the document.
“High-speed pursuit is one of the most dangerous activities that can be engaged in by a law enforcement officer,” the policy states. “The police vehicle is a potentially deadly weapon and pursuit driving is often a life or death situation.”
The fatal crash occurred on Interstate 10 just west of the Baldwin Beach Express exit. According to law enforcement officials, the 2019 Chevrolet Malibu under pursuit did a U-turn and started heading against traffic in the westbound lanes.
The vehicle plowed head-on into a 2018 Ford Escape driven by Joseph L. Andrews, 81, of St. Simons Island, Georgia. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency reported that rescue workers took Andrews to University Hospital in Mobile.
Authorities said the driver’s son, Kevin J. Andrews, 54, of Milton, Florida, died in the crash.
The driver and two passengers in the Chevrolet also died, according to authorities.
According to state investigators, the deputies began chasing the Chevrolet after the driver failed to pull over for a traffic stop. Cell phone video shot by a passenger in a car traveling west shows the Malibu passing to the left, against the flow of traffic on the highway. A black, unmarked SUV followed closely behind.
The Sheriff’s Office policy prohibits deputies in unmarked vehicles from chasing a motorist for the purpose of catching someone who has committed a traffic or misdemeanor offense. And the policy instructs officers to call off a pursuit if continuing it would jeopardize public safety.
Baldwin County Sheriff Hoss Mack says his department is reviewing the conduct of officers during the chase. He said deputies are required to consider speed, traffic conditions and other factors when determining whether to chase a vehicle.
Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicate that chases by state and local law enforcement agencies resulted in more than 6,000 fatal crashes across the country from 1996 to 2016. Pursuit Response, which advocates improving safety during police pursuits, cites research indicating that 91 percent of all police chases involve suspects who have committed nonviolent crimes.
A model policy by the International Association of Chiefs of Police recommends refraining from chases unless the officer has reason to believe the driver “would present a danger to human life or cause serious injury.”
Tim Dees, a former Nevada police officer and author of “The Truth About Cops: A Retired Police Officer’s Answers to All Your Burning Questions,” said many departments have adopted more restrictive policies.
“The trend is to discourage officers from chases. .... Any pursuit is full of liabilities because you’re dealing with completely unpredictable circumstances,” he said.
Tom Gleason, a retired law enforcement officer who now serves on the board of the advocacy group PursuitSAFETY, told Fox10 News that police should be even more cautious in continuing to chase a vehicle that has moved into the other lane of traffic, as the one from Monday’s wreck did.
Gleason recalled similar instances during his 30-year career in Alabama and Florida.
“Our policy was when they start endangering the public and it becomes more dangerous to the public than the outcome of the apprehension, then you discontinue the pursuit,” he said.
Esther Seoanes, executive director of PursuitSAFETY, recalled the day her husband died in 2012 coming home from work when he got caught up in a police chase in Austin, Texas.
Seoanes said the man under pursuit by the police had committed a property crime. In most cases, she said, it is better to let the driver go and arrest him later.
“They put themselves in danger,” she said. “They put the public in danger. … Unfortunately, too many innocent victims die on their way to the grocery store or work.”
Added Seoanes: Why do you have to apprehend them immediately?”
FOX10 News reporter Hal Scheurich contributed to this report.
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