Tuesday, June 13, 2006
The other side of high-speed police chases
We've all seen police chases on television. They're fast, and lots of folks would tell you they're fun to watch. But the fun ends when you meet a family that's been affected by a police chase in the worst of ways.

The Priano family of Chico, California, lost their only daughter, a 15-year-old girl they called "the sparkplug of the family," during a police chase four years ago. I spent time with them recently at their home to see how that moment changed their lives.

Here's the background: 15-year-old Kristia Priano was on the way to a basketball game at her school. She was in the family van with her parents and her brother.

Another 15-year-old girl had just stolen her mother's car across town and was out for a joyride. Police pursued her in a slow-speed chase. But for some reason, the girl suddenly floored it and smashed into the Priano's van at an intersection.

Here's what Kristie's mom, Candy Priano, told me she remembers about the moment right after the accident: "She always was so talkative. I mean, if she had been alright, I know she would have said something. So, in my heart of hearts I knew that something was really bad."

Kristie went into a coma and died one week later. And that other girl, the driver on the joyride, well, she left the accident scene uninjured.

Here's the question the Priano's have been asking for 4 years: If the suspect in this case was not a murderer, not even a dangerous felon, why were police chasing her? She was a high school student who took the family car out for a joyride. Does that warrant a police chase?

"Yes, because it fits the policy, because it's more than just a vehicle infraction," says Chico Police Chief Bruce Hagerty, who wasn't with the department at the time of the accident. "The trouble with pursuits is there is always a possibility that even if the officers do everything 100 percent the way they are trained to do that the pursuit will still end in a tragedy."

Hundreds of innocent people like Kristie Priano die each year as a result of police chases. You'd think law enforcement would have found a safer means to snare a suspect. But some experts we spoke with say there are a lot of police departments out there that will "chase until the wheels fall off."

The Priano's have been working for four years to pass "Kristie's Law" in California. It would restrict police chases to violent felons posing an immediate threat and make it a felony to flee from police. The bill has yet to pass.

Kristie's mom told me something her daughter said to her a few days before she died. "Oh, if I were to die, I'd be okay, because I know in that instant I would be with Jesus," she says Kristy told her.

Candy's reply: "Oh, well, Jesus isn't gonna have you die, because he knows I couldn't live without you."

It was sweet then, but haunting now.
Posted By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent: 5:11 PM ET
  38 Comments
It truly is sad when innocent people die because of unlawful acts. It would be nice to be able to show these idiots what they had done and how it affected others. Unfortunately, chases are necessary in order to "protect" many innocent people. You are kind of damned if you do and damned if you don't so pick your poison.
Posted By Anonymous FB, Del Rio, Texas : 5:45 PM ET
As a law enforcement officer who has been involved in several high speed chases, this issue is important to me in my professinal work. I have been involved in chases caused by something as pedestrian as a teenager hoping to avoid a ticket to a prison escapee who was on his third stolen car in as many days, and in that time had committed three burglaries and been involved in chases with two other law enforcement agencies. My agency encourages officers to call off a chase if a suspect's driving is posing a danger to others, especially if we could probably identify the driver, which often isn't the case. I have heard many times from people that law enforcement should not pursue a vehicle that is running because of a traffic violation. The problem is that often they are running because of something much more serious than a traffic violation, but that is just the reason they had gotten our attention. Often we have discovered wanted felons or stolen vehicles that hadn't been reported yet at the end of a chase. The policy of absolutely not pursuing a vehicle unless it is a violent felony may seem like a good idea at first, but it ultimately encourages people to run from law enforcement if they think they have not been identified, because they know we won't follow. I believe the best policy on this is keep allowing pursuits, but to encourage officers to call off a chase if the driver can be identified without stopping them (we can always get an arrest warrant and catch them later) or if the chase becomes dangerous. On some violent felons, I think the chase needs to be continued with at least an eye on keeping track of their location because of the danger they could pose to society at a later time. In the end it is the officer's decision in most places. That decision often has to be made in a matter of a few seconds using often limited information, but with the knowledge that the decision may be analyzed over a course of weeks or months by people with more information about what was going on and far less understanding of making a split-second decision in the field. The incident with Kristia Priano is a tragedy, but from the information given (I don't know if the pursuing officers were already aware of the driver's identity or if they just knew it was a stolen car) I don't believe it was an outcome that the pursuing officers could have reasonably predicted. My prayers and condolences are with the Priano family, but I hope that they do not blame the law enforcement community for their loss. It is ultimately the decision of a person to run from law enforcement that causes these difficult situations and is most responsible for the outcome.
Posted By Anonymous Jabe Jacquart, Salina, Kansas : 5:47 PM ET
Im confused about this. Because are they asking if we should let people just run from the police and get off scott-free. I think we shouldnt let people just go free. I have nothing but sympathy for the family, but that other girl was breaking the law and the police were just trying to catch her. And was she prosecuted?
Posted By Anonymous Rick, L.A. California : 5:48 PM ET
Here's the question the Priano's have been asking for 4 years: If the suspect in this case was not a murderer, not even a dangerous felon, why were police chasing her? She was a high school student who took the family car out for a joyride. Does that warrant a police chase?

Who knows what was going on through this kid's head? Just because someone did not commit murder in the past does not mean they can be a grave danger to people in the present. The police need to pursue criminals no matter what age, sex, etc... they are. You commit a crime, you are dealt with to the fullest capacity. After all, if the police don't chase her but chase a young minority youth - they are profiling - if they chase her - they are irresponsible and use too much force. Can law enforcement ever win? No - there will always be a disgruntled person complaining one way or the other.
Posted By Anonymous Milena, Ft. Lauderdale, FL : 5:57 PM ET
By no means do I think all chases are justified, but unless the chasee has just committed a felony, police have no way to know whether a person is a felon. Therefore restricting pursuits to violent felons is impossible. If a person breaks a law and will not be pursued unless they are posing an immediate threat, our laws are pointless. Accidents happen - people are unpredictaable. I feel for this family but their daughter could just as well been killed by a drunk driver or red light runner. If that was the case, the family would be channeling their energy into those issues. Blaming the police for accidents such as this is to absolve the truly guilty party of all responsibility. The wouldn't chase if someone didn't run.
Posted By Anonymous Kim San Marcos, Ca : 6:02 PM ET
I understand that police cannot simply throw their hands up and do nothing when a suspect flees, but I also feel that we cannot sit back and do nothing to prevent tragedies like this. It makes perfect sense to only allow chases that endanger the public when pursuing a dangerous, violent criminal. It is clearly not worth risking a human life to chase down a car thief.
Posted By Anonymous April Mpls, MN : 6:32 PM ET
Fortunately technology may be of help mitigating the all too tragic results of the police chase.

I've read recently of products coming online which allow police to track automobiles without the need to pursue via vehicle.

From helicopter mounted FLIR (already in use in some area's) to futuristic 'sticky bugs' that can be fired onto the vehicle in question at which point the suspect is then tracked electronically.

Of course all of this comes too late for the family in question (and all the other victims). My heart goes out to them for their tragic loss. :(
Posted By Anonymous Bryce Mohan, Seattle Wa : 6:40 PM ET
I have to applaud the police chief of Dallas. He just changed the chase policy to be only of violent crimes. We had over 300 chases last year and only 2 were related to violent crime. But 1 in 4 ended in a crash. Thats 75 crashes. We lost many police crusiers and had many, many people go to the hospital. My personal view is cars have lisence plates, why dont we track that way? Is a 75 dollar traffic ticket worth the price of your child? (in may a woman led police on a chase thru 3 school zones during morning hours on her way to work) There are alternative ways to apprehend. I always wondered, when they chase a stolen car, are they after the property? What happens when that car is totaled, or catches fire? Was it really worth it?
Posted By Anonymous Ryan S., Dallas, TX : 6:41 PM ET
There has to be a better way to eliminated these high-speed police pursuit chases!

I have recently heard and read about engine stalling devices -
a vehicle is equpped with a small radio receiver chip into the main computer control circuit. The radio receiver would have the ability to disconnect the ignition circuit of the vehile, effectively turning off the key of the ignition.
The car would then just roll to a stop, as if it has run out of gas.
Posted By Anonymous Natasha, Tucson, AZ : 6:45 PM ET
I have yet to understand chasing someone because a car is stolen. Hopefully, the car is insured which will enable the crime victim to purchase a new one. I wonder, is it the thrill of the chase for the police? There is just not a good enough reason to endanger the lives of innocent people, not because a teenager has decided to take a car for a spin without permission. I believe this applies especially in this case, because this girl took the family car. There should be a law against stupid chases. There should be a true valid reason for chasing someone- like spotting a murderer or an escaped felon. Joy rides should not qualify.
Posted By Anonymous Judy Burns Sacramento, California : 6:52 PM ET
I'm not sure I understand this issue. They will restrict police chases to violent felons who pose a risk to the public, and then they make running from the cops a felony. So this person fleeing from the police in a dangerous vehicle who might run over a pedestrian is now automatically a felon. Did I miss something? How is this different than just chasing them in the first place?
Posted By Anonymous Michael Lowell, MA : 6:54 PM ET
Like others, I can sympathize with the family, and hate to see innocent men,women, and children suffer from these incidents. But, by "regulating" who to pursue, and on what grounds, and to what degree can be very idealistic, but maybe not very realistic. What happens when the "non-felon" commits further offenses and crimes, because they were not pursued? Will the public then outcry that not enough was done? That's the dilemma our police have to face every day. If I do this will it be considered too much, and If I do that will it not be enough. What bothers me is, the whole issue in question revolves around the officers who are trying to keep the streets and communities safe, and not so much on the individuals who through these callous actions, have been the actual instigators of tragedy.
Posted By Anonymous Tim ,Longmont, Colorado : 7:09 PM ET
I hope the teen who took the car has been held accountable. I would like to know if this girl has a history of bad behavior, and if she had consumed alcohol.
Posted By Anonymous Janice Citrus Heighs, California : 7:35 PM ET
This is ridiculus. The police chase people because the criminal does not stop when the police signial for them to do so. How in the world is the police officer suppose to know why the individual is running from them? How are the cops suppose to know that it is a 15 year old kid, and not a dangerous felon when the person has not even pulled over to talk with the police officer? How about we look at the parents of kids who do stupid things like this as opposed to blaming the police for trying to keep us safe.
Posted By Anonymous S.D. Walters, Atlanta Ga : 7:50 PM ET
How are the police supposed to know if an offender is "violent" or not? Also, what crime was the "joyrider" charged with? I personally do not want the local paper to report that "Joe was shot and killed because the police thought the car thief was non-violent."
Posted By Anonymous Joe D. Baton Rouge, LA : 7:50 PM ET
It's another complex issue where there is no clear right and wrong way to proceed.

As a society, we can't allow criminals to simply race away from a crime without police pursuit. Yet, there are times when the crime committed does not warrant the dangers of a high speed chase.

Perhaps, the answer lies in holding the person who is the object of the high speed chase responsible for any accidents which occur during the pursuit.

This wouldn't bring back the innocent people killed in such chases, but at least it would give some closure to the families of the innocent victims. And it might make people think twice before fleeing from the police.
Posted By Anonymous Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 8:20 PM ET
Our streets are dangerous enough with careless drivers taking other lives in their hands by driving drunk, too fast or too distracted. Our police departments don't need to add fuel to the fire by leading high speed chases through our streets. Too many innocent people are getting killed by people who don't understand the consequences of their careless actions. If the police really want to follow someone, they should do it by helicopter only until the car can be safely cornered.
Posted By Anonymous Cathy, Minneapolis, MN : 8:24 PM ET
This is a tough topic. My heart goes out to the family in your story. But everyone seems to only blame the police. What about the criminal who committed the crime and then took off to avoid arrest? It's tough to know where to draw the line so to speak. The safety of the public is a vital part of police work. If they let an offender go, do they run the risk of he or she committing more crimes in higher degrees? Yet if they give chase how high is the risk it will end the way it did here?
Posted By Anonymous Kelly C , Westwood New Jersey : 8:40 PM ET
Should they pursue someone (YES) There's no way to stop accident's People die every day due to vehicle crashes. Was it the Police's fault that that teenager sped into them NO!!! The girl broke the law and that is what we pay the police to do, if we decide that it's too dangerous to go after criminals then why have any Law Enforcement. If we can't chase the criminals we can't catch them, then all we'll hear is people complaining about the increase in crime and cop's letting people get away. There's always a risk but but sometimes risks must be taken for the better. I feel bad for the family that lost their child but don't blame the Police for doing their job it wasn't their fault that the girl stole a car and refused to stop, and just think that if everyone didn't complain about the use of force the Ploice could have stopped the chase long before by forcing the car to a stop, Society get's what they want, they complain about use of force, Police can't force vehicles to stop, they complain about chases then criminals get away, then they complain about Police not catching the criminals and complain because the Police are not doing their job. Give Law Eforcment a break, it's a very hard job and they know what to do. The American People need to stop trying to control every one, If you are not trained for that position then you are not an expert, it's easy to make judgements but for once put the blame where it belong's on the undisciplined kid's of this country who are out of control.
Posted By Anonymous jon, Tacoma Wa : 9:27 PM ET
Ever heard of a "necessary evil"? That's what we have here. I can tell you this for sure... If we (yes, that's right, I'm a police officer) don't chase these people, they will always run. You never know why you're really chasing them until you catch them. Time after time it starts as a minor traffic violation and ends up as something much bigger. Why doesn't our liberal country get tougher on the criminals? Hey, there's a thought.
Posted By Anonymous Eric Metzger, Walden, NY : 11:04 PM ET
Whose fault are the tragedies? The police or the law breakers who initiate the chase? Can anyone imagine what would occur if there were an establihsed policy that law enforcement would NOT pursue violators? The word would soon be establshed: "Just run because the cops can't chase you".
Posted By Anonymous W. Coleman, Spruce Pine NC : 11:17 PM ET
How are the cops supposed to know if the car they just lit up and now fails to yield contains a violent felon? Running the plate may do no good because the driver may not be the registered owner. A no-pursuit or restricted pursuit policy simply tells the crooks to "go for it". I feel sorry for the department that can't chase a crook. Especially when they later find out the suspect was wanted for a violent and atrocious felony in someone else's stolen car and the victim's family blames the police for letting them go...
Posted By Anonymous Tony, San Diego, CA : 11:34 PM ET
My brother, who's serving jail time, fled specifically because he knew the police wouldn't pursue and got away with a couple additional crimes where others were hurt because he wasn't caught. What about those victims? While I agree there are risks with pursuit we should focus on 'preventing' crime not changing the rules about when we'll pursue a suspect.
Posted By Anonymous Scott Wilkins, Goodyear AZ : 11:55 PM ET
If you do not chase the criminals and attempt to catch them, then how do you know exactly what crime they have committed. The Oklahoma City bomber, McVeh(sp?) was caught on a traffic stop; what if he ran and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol did not pursue?
Posted By Anonymous Rick, Kirbyville TX. : 11:59 PM ET
I think in this particular case, the chase was okay - not that Kristy's death was okay, obviously, but the girl who stole her mother's car was breaking the law anyway, right? What happened to her after all this? People who steal cars should't get off without punnishment, of course, after all, they are breaking the law. But I think that alternative methods of pursuing car theives that would make the roads safer for the innocent bystanders should be used more often. I know there's no way to completely ensure the saftey of those not involved in the chase itself, nor do I know much about how these chases work, but perhaps if they used more of a tracking system than a chasing system, less lives would be lost in these high speed chases.
Posted By Anonymous Rebecca, Pittsburgh, PA : 12:00 AM ET
I think police should lose their primative mentality of chasing cars to get their bad guy no matter what. It's it killing innocent people on the road and in my opinion makes the police just as guilty as the violators. why not "head them off at the pass" with helicopters and road blocks? Cops evidently want the adrenaline rush too. But sorry to say the cops don't stop and get their bad guy, accidents stop the bad guy in which innocent people are killed. What will it take to make the police stop this dangerous adrenline rush..one of THEIR family members to be killed in one of these accidents? Or the mayors or the police chiefs family member? Use common sense! You probably have the license plate get them later... and NO other idiots will not take advantage of the NO CHASE rule..maybe a few, but let them go to. The law is there to protect us, so stop putting us in arms way - thank you
Posted By Anonymous Dianne Zimmermann, St. Louis, MO : 12:00 AM ET
I understand where the Priano family is coming from- I can't imagine losing someone I love due to the carelessness of others, but I also can't imagine letting criminals loose on the road. Obviously they are running from something which warrants the chase.

You can't just say "oh well, this crime wasn't so bad, let's just let them go and catch them later". It's either you catch them now or that's it. End of story.
Posted By Anonymous Suzanne, Minneapolis, MN : 12:02 AM ET
My regards to the family and their loss, it is truly horrible. Yet I do not understand why the family is trying to pass this kind of law. Firstly, how can you restrict police chases to only violent felons posing an immediate threat? There is a first time for everything, so why let someone get away with it in the first place, only to possibly lead to doing it again, and putting even more peoples' lives at risk? Secondly, (this is a little more technical) but how can you make a positive ID on the driver in order to decide whether or not to pursue the chase? Yes, police chases do have potential of ending in tragedy, yet I feel they do more good then harm.
Posted By Anonymous Kailey, Toronto, Ontario : 12:04 AM ET
Let people get away who try to run? Sounds crazy to me. I feel for those who have lost loved ones due to police chases, but why are do we always point the finger at the cops. It was the criminal that chose to run, and it was the criminal that caused the carnage. What I don't understand is why the laws aren't changed to allow police to perform a pit manuver as soon as the offending driver floors it and speeds are slower, rather than waiting for chases to continue, and reach high speeds. Just let the police have the power to end it as soon as the attempt to run is made. Why let things drag out, and let the odds increase of something bad happening?
Posted By Anonymous Jason, Portland, OR : 12:11 AM ET
Police Officers have a responsibility to use all of their equipment according to policy. This includes firearms, batons, pepper spray, etc. This also includes the vehicle that they are operating. If they are negligent, they will be brought to task. That said, the proximate cause is the law breaker. Society has demanded the police to use the means that is reasonable to stop an offender. If the action used by police causes the offender to injure or kill an innocent, then the offender has committed another crime(s). The answer here (with the utmost respect for the families involved) is not another law with the name of one of the victim's as a martyr, but the education of the future offender- "If your actions cause the death or maiming of another, you will be held responsible". The police know this and are certainly held to this standard and the law that dictates that is the same law for other citizens as well.
Posted By Anonymous C.W. Campton, NH : 12:17 AM ET
The police need to wake up and realize that chases do more damage than good. They are just as responsible as the people being pursued. In fact, even moreso.
Posted By Anonymous Paul Panks, Phoenix, Arizona : 12:44 AM ET
I think the police are not protecting the public when they have a chance and don't use ANY force necessary to stop these people. Every time they drive throuth an intersection, etc., they endanger our lives. If someone threatens an officer they get shot but if they are 'just' endangering the public they are allowed to go till somthing happens. Instead of stop sticks shoot a few and these chases would be much fewer. Also they should be charged with endangerment for everyone they put in danger, duhh.
Posted By Anonymous T. McClanahan,Phoenix,Az : 1:00 AM ET
The problem is that the police allows these cars to go out of control while riding in the back. If you run from the police you shouldn't be allowed to do so for hours on a freeway. the response should be swift and if any harm comes to anyone it should come to the felon not to inncoent civilians.
Posted By Anonymous gideon, los angeles, ca : 1:32 AM ET
The reason why something like "Kristie's Law" will never pass is because it is a law that nullifies basic traffic laws. Of course chases involve risks and innocent fatalities that are utterly heartbreaking. However, because a person decides to run does not mean they should be let go. Think about the repercussions of that alone. The chaos of people regularly fleeing traffic stops to avoid even the simplest violations would make the roads of California far more dangerous.
Posted By Anonymous Sam, Los Angeles CA : 1:53 AM ET
If the police had let this 15 year old, with no license, get away and she ended up doing the same thing then who would get the blame... You guessed it, the Police. Failure to protect is a nasty lawsuit and a department's worst nightmare. Not just for the legal ramifications but rather the public's trust. A department that fails to protect the people is not much of a department. I think a majority of the public wants effective law enforcement but most don't realize that to be effective you will rarley have unfortunate events like this one occur.
Posted By Anonymous Brandon, Asheville, NC : 2:39 AM ET
I watched this a few minutes ago. Candy Priano (The Mom) found fault not in the 15 year old joy rider but the bad men (The Cops) chasing her. WTF?

This Joy rider should be charged as an adult with 1st degree murder. If Mrs. Priano wants to make a difference & do something real she needs to push for Toughter scentencing on those who feel Running from the cops is an option.
1 count attempted murder per car passed. If they hit a innocent driver
2 counts of attempted murder. They die
then its premeditaded 1st degree murder. The Runner CHOSE to run knowing they may kill or harm others.

Now the Cops DO need to take some blame. If you watch many chased the cops avoid at all cost any damage to their patrol cars. It as if the cops decided it would be better Kristia Priano be sacrificed than a stupid patrol car.

Lets look at the facts. "Police pursued her in a slow-speed chase"
What they could not have rammed this joyriding Brat? They could not have
cut off traffic well ahead of the chase? Maybe if it cost a Police Department $30,000 for every city block they allow a chase to go on
and 100,000 per every partol car involved in the chase NOT cutting off traffic and NOT using force to end a persuit maybe the chase will end quicker.

I say who cares if the runner is killed better them than an innocent victim.
Posted By Anonymous Lazyike, Kansas City, Mo. : 3:26 AM ET
Blaming this on the police is like blaming the parents of the 15 year old who died for not having a larger vehicle. If they had an SUV or a truck their duaghter may still be alive. I know that sounds stupid but blaming law enforcement is also stupid. And on a side note, I drive large vehicles to help protect my kids.
Posted By Anonymous Craig A. St. paul, Mn. : 10:33 PM ET
I am a 16 year veteran police officer.
Yes, this and the many incidents just like it are terrible. I sympathize with these unfortunate families. I have a family and I would be devastated to lose a family memeber to a car crash.

However, there is yet another side you, like all the others in your profession refuse to print. The fact that at this stage in history, there is no other way to apprehend fleeing criminals.

What would you have the police do? Simply let all fleeing drivers go because something bad "might" happen? Where would that lead our society?

People do not run from the police simply because they have an equipment violation. People run because they are criminals, and do not want to be caught and possibly jailed or imprisoned. To suggest otherwise does a great disservice to law enforcement everywhere.

I once had a car go by with a headlight out late at night in a business district near a highly populated area. I tried to stop the car and the driver floored it. I chased it for several miles before the car crashed into a pole. I was able to apprehend the driver, and after a few moments found the owner of the car tied up in the back seat. The car had been carjacked, only the bad guy, who was wanted on a couple of parole violations, did not let the woman go and would likely have raped and killed her.

I wonder, where would that unlucky woman be today had I not been allowed to chase that car at high speed? I also wonder what her family might have said had I decided not to chase for whatever reason? Would I have been a hero or a villian for not chasing, and had she ended up...well...you know.?

Am I to let drunk drivers have free reign to run the roads, while I sit back and watch? Am I to let teenagers who just stole a car, have the same free reign? Am I to do nothing as a mad man set on road rage, do whatever damage he might only to drive away scott free?

What would you call me if your wife had been tied up in that car and I let him go because I could not chase?
Posted By Anonymous Tony W. Frazier, MI : 10:39 PM ET
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