Vanaski: Pursuit pits police cowboys, cabbie in city streets
The night a police chase into the South Side ended with a crash and a police officer standing on the hood of Bodie Essiet's cab, his life flashed before his eyes.
“I was thinking about my children,” Essiet said.
More than a year after the police pursuit of Donald Burris Jr., the cabbie is bothered by one question: Should the officers have fired so close to bystanders? Officers fired at least 10 shots that night on East Carson Street, which hosts a popular bar and restaurant scene. They found neither drugs nor weapons in the Burris car.
The incident began Jan. 13, 2013, when Burris ran a red light in Homestead and borough police began a pursuit. The chase ended when Burris and his mother, Lena Davenport, 50, were shot and wounded by police, many of whom were moonlighting in those nightspots.
Davenport filed a federal civil lawsuit against the officers, Homestead and Pittsburgh over her injuries. Her son is awaiting trial for aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and other charges related to the pursuit.
Davenport's attorney, J. Kerrington Lewis, showed me the video retrieved from the dashboard camera in the cab. Lewis believes the video shows that officers didn't have to shoot at Burris' car because they were not in danger. Burris struck at least two vehicles in the chase before crashing into Essiet's cab. That's when Officer Thomas Gorecki fired two shots into the vehicle, apparently missing Burris and his mother.
None of the officers involved in the incident would comment because of the pending litigation. Neither would District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s office nor city Solicitor Lourdes Sánchez-Ridge's office. At the time, police officials and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said the officers were trying to protect the public.
The video shows the chaos that frightened Essiet. At 1:43 a.m., he's stopped at East Carson and 14th Street, talking to his dispatcher about a fare. Then he apparently hears gunfire.
“Is that people shooting? Somebody shooting?” Essiet shouts.
Seconds later, the video shows Burris' 1997 Buick LeSabre coming at him on East Carson. Homestead police later estimated the car's speed at 35 to 45 mph.
The camera captures Gorecki running into the street, looking toward Burris' car and crossing in front of Essiet's cab. At the same time, Burris' car hits another car before continuing on East Carson. Gorecki then steps up to the LeSabre and fires twice into it as it careens into the cab.
The pursuit ends with Gorecki standing on the cab's hood and pointing his weapon as other officers surround Burris' car.
The camera in Essiet's cab is two-way, so the video shows an angle of the frantic cabbie trying to protect himself.
“Lord be with me! Please forgive me!” he repeats.
Today Essiet is still concerned about how police handled the chase.
“Why are you chasing (the car) in a heavily populated area? How could that situation have been taken care of without putting all those people in danger?”
Lewis, who worked on the Jordan Miles case, agreed.
“It's stuff you see that the cowboys do. It's beyond the pale,” Lewis said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Hacker stuns Dayton family with computer takeover
- Officials stop packages with ‘inappropriate’ material intended for Murrysville girls
- In reworking contract, Steelers WR Brown gets hefty pay raise
- Feds investigating millions embezzled from Matthews International Corp. of Pittsburgh
- Steelers trying to get missing defensive pieces on field
- 22-month-old boy shot, killed in North Side; man charged
- PPG’s new CEO to push organic growth with existing clients
- Steelers running back eager to prove he can help bridge gap to Bell
- Youngstown State looking for repeat performance against Pitt
- Cole struggles as Brewers continue Miller mastery over Pirates
- West Mifflin renovation project uncovers time capsule of images