A controversial subject in the news today is that of police pursuits. Yes, society does want criminal apprehended, but, no, society does not want innocent bystanders or law enforcement officers hurt in the process. Unfortunately, this at times, is difficult to accomplish, and a recent tragic collision in Jefferson County this week highlighted just how dangerous a police pursuit can be.
A Hanceville family of three was killed instantly in a horrific crash when two suspects fleeing police crashed into their vehicle. A young couple and their 10-month-old baby died in the accident.
Authorities say that Monday Dominique Smith, 20, and Jeffrey Howe, 18, of Mulga, pistol whipped an elderly man in Cordova and then fled in their SUV. Dora police spotted the fleeing SUV, gave chase, but lost the suspects in the Wylam/McDonald Chapel area. A Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy spotted the suspects, but in turning his patrol car around, crashed and was unable to follow the suspects.
The suspects continued fleeing, eventually running a red light at the intersection of Minor Parkway and Birmingport Road, crashing into and killing the young family of three. The suspects jumped out of the SUV and ran from the police. One suspect turned himself and police captured the other suspect the following day.
Randy Christian, Jefferson County Chief Deputy, pointed out that police were not actively pursuing the suspects when the collision occurred. “I’m not sure that calling this a high-speed chase has been accurate, fair to the victims and their families or fair to the officers involved and it certainly hasn’t helped anyone,” Christian said. “Were the suspects fleeing from a violent crime? Yes. Were they trying to avoid capture? Absolutely. Was anyone hot on their trail when they hit and murdered this family? No. I have heard this called an accident. This was no accident. It was a wreck, and it was murder.”
Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper stated that all police pursuits do involve risks in that the fleeing suspect is the one who selects the speed and the routes to avoid capture. A police decision to pursue a fleeing suspect has to be balanced between the benefit of catching the suspect now and environmental conditions. What constitutes a “good pursuit at 2:00 a.m. may not constitute a good pursuit at 2:00 p.m.” When the potential danger to the officer and citizens outweigh the advantage of apprehending the suspect, a pursuit is generally not recommended. Roper said that even if an officer does not pursue or stops the chase, a suspect usually will continue his reckless driving in an attempt to not only elude officers, but to place greater distance between himself and officers, as well.
Under Alabama law, an heir may file a wrongful death lawsuit against the person who is responsible for the death of their loved one. It is very important to seek counsel with an experienced Alabama wrongful death lawyer soon after the accident as a lawsuit needs to be filed within two years of the victim’s date of death. An experienced, competent attorney will conduct a comprehensive investigation and will work diligently to bring the responsible party to justice and seek punitive damages against him, as well.