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Editorial: Is high-speed chase too high risk?

| Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018, 5:33 p.m.
Above, the scene of a multi-vehicle crash on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018, in Murrysville.
Above, the scene of a multi-vehicle crash on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018, in Murrysville.

Everyone has heard the saying about the punishment fitting the crime.

What about the crime fitting the punishment? What about the alleged crime and the possible punishment?

On Tuesday, a man called the Tribune-Review with a simple question. He wanted to know how high-speed chases keep happening in our communities.

The call came two days after a crash in Murrysville where an Export man fled police in Allegheny County and ended up colliding with multiple vehicles at the intersection of Old William Penn Highway and School Road.

Darrell Gordon is facing 29 charges for the Murrysville chase. In addition to crimes such as fleeing from police and resisting arrest, he is charged with drug possession and driving under the influence. There are a number of counts of reckless driving and endangerment.

It happened on a Sunday, so there weren’t classes at Newlonsburg Elementary or nearby Franklin Regional Middle School. No one was picking up kindergartners. Seventh-graders weren’t walking home.

But what if they were? What if that chase was happening at 3 p.m. on a school day?

It begs the question: When do the scales tip on a chase? When is it worth breaking away? When is it a public danger to let a suspect go, and when is it as or more dangerous to try and make him stop?

Delmont police Chief T.J. Klobucar and Washington Township Chief Scott Slagle have previously told the Trib that high-speed chases are not worth the risk , and they want officers to avoid them. Slagle specifically called out dangerous times like when buses are rolling.

Carolyn Hanner filed a lawsuit against Pittsburgh in September over the injuries to her then-12-year-old daughter in a 2015 high-speed chase. Hanner’s son, Donovan Robinson, was driving the car being pursued, the car in which his sister and a 16-year-old girl were passengers. The pursuit allegedly began over a would-be traffic stop.

Let’s be clear. No one should lead police on a chase over a missed stop sign or a speeding ticket. Neither does a tween need to suffer a lifelong brain injury for it.

And if this all seems familiar, that’s because the simple question is one that has been asked a lot, and one where the answer is often that there are better ways to handle the situation than pushing the gas pedal.

In January 2017, Allegheny County departments were looking to update policies regarding pursuits following a November 2016 incident where an illegal turn became a triple fatality .

This is not just an Allegheny and Westmoreland issue. According to the Pennsylvania State Police, the most recent pursuit data come from 2016. It showed that of 1,803 chases, 30 percent were discontinued by police, and 26.84 percent ended when the other driver decided to stop. About a third of pursuits involved crashes, and 168 of those involved someone who wasn’t a part of the pursuit. And 338 pursuits ended because of crashes.

Statistics sometimes don’t help before the fact, but maybe realizing that there is a chance that almost two of every 10 chases will end in twisted metal might make everybody think about exactly what is being risked.

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