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In hot pursuit, do police always know their limits?

Motorists know that when they see the flashing lights and hear a blaring siren from an emergency response vehicle they need to get out of the way as quickly and safely as possible. The emergency personnel, such as police, firefighters or paramedics, are trying to provide assistance to someone in need. In situations involving the police, a cruiser with their warning lights activated can also mean that they are in pursuit of a criminal suspect.

However, it is important for law enforcement personnel to weigh the potential dangers of a criminal pursuit against the safety of innocent bystanders. An aggressive pursuit can end in a car accident leading to serious injury or even death.

In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration an estimated 26 percent of individuals killed during a police chase were bystanders.

Law enforcement officials in Union Township are now tasked with the responsibility of determining the culpability of their officers' with the deaths of two elderly women driving home from church. The women were killed by a motorist driving a Penske truck while attempting to escape from police pursuit.

Reports state that an officer matched the vehicle description of a truck suspected to be involved in a Pierce Township theft. The officer proceeded to turn on his lights and siren to alert the driver to pull over. However, the 33-year-old Ohio man refused to stop the truck and a game of cat and mouse was underway.

The officer allegedly continued to tail the suspect from a distance but without his lights and siren activated. He was later joined by another officer to aid in the chase, but both followed the truck from a distance. The police officers reported that the speed of the chase was not excessive.

Sadly, after the police lost sight of the truck, the driver, in a presumed effort to lose the authorities, ran through a red light and collided with the women's minivan. The police didn't even know the crash occurred until "they rounded the bend."

Both women were pronounced dead at the scene of the crash. The suspect is now facing criminal charges for their deaths as well as operating a vehicle without a valid driver's license.

While the man attempting to dodge the police is responsible for the women's death and should be punished, it is equally important for investigators to rule out the possibility that the officers pursing the truck shouldn't share partial blame. An internal review will now be done to ascertain if the officers followed the township's rules governing pursuits.

Source: nky.cincinnati.com, "Police called off chase twice before fatal crash," Jennifer Edwards Baker and Janice Morse, July 30, 2012

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