A fatal traffic accident during a possible police chase near Atmore on Thursday would mark the second this week and provides fresh illustration of the risks associated with pursuing fleeing suspects.
Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveal 1,715 fatal accidents involving police pursuits from 2014 through 2018.
In Alabama, fatalities during police chases has declined for three straight years from 2016 to 2018, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Still, during those three years, 37 fatal crashes occurred in the state – including one in the Mobile area.
Tom Gleason, a former law enforcement officer who serves on the board of an advocacy organization called PursuitSAFETY, told FOX10 News that the grim statistics highlight the need for police agencies to be careful in deciding when to chase and when to make the arrest another time.
Gleason said it is best not to take the risk unless the suspect is wanted for murder or some other aggravated violent crime.
“Those would be the type of things that would raise … to the point of where you would put yourself and people at risk,” he said. “’Cause any time you start a pursuit, you’re starting to put people’s lives at risk.”
Southwest Alabama saw two fatal crashes this week involving police changes. The first occurred Wednesday night when a motorist fleeing from Summerdale police collided with a sport utility vehicle.
Authorities said Pearly Mason, who was thrown from the vehicle, later died at University Hospital in Mobile.
The other fatal accident occurred at about 5:30 p.m. on Thursday in Alabama’s Escambia County at Ross Road and Alabama 21. Authorities said Warren Stallworth was driving at speeds reaching 100 mph when sheriff’s deputies started pursuing him.
By the time deputies caught up with Stallworth, he had crashed head on into a truck, according to officials. Stallworth died shortly after the collision.
The two accidents this week come less than a year after five peopled died during a chase in Interstate 10 in Baldwin County. In that wreck the driver of a 2019 Chevrolet Malibu made a U-turn and drove the wrong way at high speeds in the westbound lanes. The vehicle plowed into an oncoming 2018 Ford Escape. Two people in that vehicle died, along with all three occupants of the Malibu.
The Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office said at the time that it was reviewing its policies on car chases.
Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that chases can be dangerous not only to the general public, but the officers, themselves. From 1980 to 2015, nearly 1,000 people riding in police vehicles died in crashes.
(Reporter Steve Alexander contributed to this report).