Monday, March 22, 2010

Outlaw high-speed chases in high-density areas

Posted By on Mon, Mar 22, 2010 at 12:03 PM

There are states in which it is illegal for law enforcement to conduct high-speed chases in residential areas. Tragically for the family and friends of Latia Winchester, there’s no such law in North Carolina. As a result, Ms. Winchester, 25, was killed Saturday night at Parkwood Ave. and N. Davidson St. when her car was slammed into by a car, driven by Eddie Ellison, 41, who sped through a stoplight. A N.C. Highway Patrol cruiser was chasing Ellison at high speed after Ellison had turned around and driven away rather than go through a highway patrol checkpoint.

Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. J.E. Brewer says HP policy is to pursue any cars that make U-turns at a checkpoint: "It's our experience that when a person stops, turns and leaves a check station, they're engaged in some type of violation." The “violation” in this case was that Ellison was driving with a revoked license, as well as ... well, as well as nothing. No guns, no drugs, no nothing, not even an open beer can. And now a young woman who had absolutely nothing to do with any of this has had her life cut short because a Highway Patrol checkpoint went awry. This is more than tragic, it’s just plain stupid.

Maybe if HP officers were trained better in the differences between population density in urban areas and, say, Chickenscratch, N.C., Ms. Winchester would still be with us. Yes, it was Ellison who crashed into Winchester’s car; but how many criminals have you ever heard of who stop to check to see if anything’s coming at an intersection during a chase? It’s up to law enforcement officers to be the responsible adults in such situations, and in this case, the HP utterly failed.

Ellison has been arrested and charged with, among other things, involuntary manslaughter, as he should be. In some states, the officer driving the patrol cruiser would be charged, too, as he/she also should be. At the very least, Highway Patrol policy needs to be changed. Maybe it makes sense for the HP to chase down checkpoint U-turners when they’re in a low-density area, but in Belmont/NoDa at 10 on Saturday night? Even if Ellison had been carrying a kilo of heroin and a couple of AK-47s, it would not have been worth one innocent civilian’s life to chase him down, considering the risk involved in conducting such a chase in the middle of the city. It shouldn’t take the death of an innocent young woman to prompt some common sense from the Highway Patrol.

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