A police pursuit ended with a woman dead Saturday and questions about department policies for chasing fleeing vehicles, sometimes at high speeds and at risk to innocent victims.
Ebony Radford, 35, was a passenger in a car that fled an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper about 1:40 a.m. Saturday on Gettysburg Avenue in Dayton. About 20 seconds later, the car ended up on Oakridge drive after driver Thurston Melson, 37, ran a stop sign, lost control and plowed into a utility pole, ripping the car in two.
It’s unclear why Melson ran from a trooper, but Radford’s name is now among those on a list of fatalities as a result of vehicles evading law enforcement and cruiders chasing in response.
“These are real situations, and what happens in a high-speed chase is somebody innocent – very innocent – could lose a life,” said the Rev. Rockney Carter, who was on a committee that produced a 2016 report advising the Ohio Attorney General on law enforcement pursuits.
At least 352 people, including 147 bystanders and a law enforcement officer, were killed in incidents related to police pursuits in Ohio between 1982 and 2014, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The attorney general’s task force was set up in response to the March 2016 death of Marcus Harper, 50, of Xenia, whose Chevrolet Blazer was T-boned in a Harrison Twp. intersection by a stolen Chevrolet Impala driven by Kyndra J. Shackelford, who was being pursued by Huber Heights police at speeds up to 83 miles per hour.
Shackelford is serving a mandatory 15-year sentence at Dayton Correctional Institution for Harper’s death.
Last March, Jordan Anthony Harville of Clayton stole a Ford F-250 pickup truck from an auto repair business in Fletcher along U.S. Route 36 in Miami County. Authorities gave chase, joined at one time by Troy and Tipp City police, the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.
Harville struck a Honda Accord backing out of a private driveway on North Dixie Drive in Harrison Twp., putting an end to the chase and the life of 28-year-old Anthony Hufford. Harville is now incarcerated at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution serving a cumulative sentence of 10 years for theft, failure to comply with the police and aggravated vehicular assault.
Aside from allegedly stealing a vehicle, Harville told a sheriff’s deputy that day he had used heroin during the police pursuit, according to a report.
“A lot of people are driving without licenses so they will just run from police,” said Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer. “A lot of people are selling drugs — car-to-car transactions — so they have guns and drugs on them, so they run from police.”
Police pursuits are “a very touchy, delicate” subject, Plummer said. “If criminals figure out your policies, they will run from you.”
Montgomery County altered policies after pursuits resulted in deaths and spawned lawsuits, Plummer said. One included the death of Montgomery Mott, who died in February 2001 when his vehicle was hit by one driven by Paul Hendrickson, a suspect fleeing deputy Ted Jackson at speeds reaching 85 mph.
“Our threshold is it’s got to be a violent felony: aggravated robbery or something with serious violence where the public is at risk,” Plummer said. “We’re not going to chase you for a speeding violation, something minor. Our officers are restricted because … innocent people (have died) before.”
Plummer said a supervisor has the ability to initiate or call off a chase and will take stock of a number of factors included in the office’s policy before deciding.
“There are a lot of variables the supervisor has to weigh before they approve a chase or not,” he said. “You have variables you have to factor in like time of day, how bad the traffic is or if it’s in school zones.”
The attorney general’s special report lists other factors, including whether a suspect is known and could be apprehended later, road and weather conditions, officer experience and whether there are additional passengers in the vehicle.
Carter, senior pastor at Zion Baptist Church in Dayton, said a lack of trust between minority communities and police sometimes heightens the response by some to flee police.
“What we were trying to do was make sure the pursuit, whether it happens to African Americans or non-African Americans, that they were done in a way that did not pose a threat — imminent danger — to the community in which the pursuit happened,” he said.
Carter has seen firsthand the consequences of police pursuits. His own nephew was rear-ended by a car evading police, and he was once called to an area hospital 3 a.m. when a congregant’s grandson was a passenger in a vehicle running from police.
“The kids ran into a tree in a pursuit and ditched the vehicle. Some of them ended up in the hospital in pretty bad shape,” he said. “I did my job, which was pray for him at that time.”
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