Women caught up in wrong way chase

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 16/06/2014
Ellen Graham
GRANT MATTHEW/FAIRFAX NZ
CRASH SURVIVORS:  Ellen Graham, left, and Karen Robinson, are still shaken after a car being chased by police down the wrong side of a Wellington highway crashed into them.

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Two women caught up in a high-speed police chase want answers after the fleeing driver crashed into them while driving on the wrong side of the motorway.

Ellen Graham of Foxton was driving south on State Highway 1 between Porirua and Tawa, about 11.30pm on Thursday, when the fleeing driver's car smashed head-on into her vehicle.

The car had been driven up an off-ramp and was going north in the southbound lane when it hit Graham's car while being pursued by police, Porirua area commander Inspector Paul Basham said.

The driver crashed into a bank soon after and stopped 500 metres up the road.

Graham was driving her friend Karen Robinson to Wellington Airport to pick up Robinson's two daughters who were flying back from Australia for their grandmother's funeral.

Graham said she rounded a bend and saw headlights and flashing police lights heading straight for her.

Robinson said that when the car came around the bend, she could see one set of headlights, then the police car lights. "I could see it was a white car and it was just ‘boom'. I think the impact was on my side of the car."

Graham fought to stop safely, and the car's airbags deployed as a police car sped past them. The two women leapt from their wrecked vehicle, which had smoke pouring from it, and called 111.

"We were just absolutely bewildered as to what had happened," Graham said.

A passing doctor stopped to help before police, ambulance and the fire service arrived. Police drove the women to the airport to collect Robinson's daughters.

They were then driven separately to Johnsonville police station, where they were interviewed about the crash.

"It was like an interrogation," Graham said. They believed the pursuit was unsafe and said shock from the crash made it harder to cope with the funeral on Saturday.

Police confirmed two officers in a patrol car started pursuing a vehicle carrying three men in Tawa and followed it as it went the wrong way on to the southbound lane, heading north.

The pursuit lasted about 45 seconds, including about 10 to 15 seconds travelling the wrong way on the off-ramp and highway, where the fleeing car hit the approaching vehicle, Basham said.

At the time, the police officers were unaware how serious that collision had been but officers were dispatched to assist the women while they dealt with the suspects, he said.

"It must have been really traumatic for these ladies and we really understand that."

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Basham said the fleeing driver elected to go the wrong way on to the highway, which put police in a difficult situation of weighing up whether to continue the pursuit.

If police had stopped and the fleeing car had badly hurt other motorists, the public might criticise them for failing to act, he said.

"Fortunately nobody was injured but we are acutely aware of what might have been."

A man, 22, who suffered foot injuries in the crash, had been charged with dangerous driving, failing to stop for police plus drink-driving and driving while disqualified, both for a third or subsequent time.

He will appear in Porirua District Court tomorrow.

The car had been green-stickered by police the week before the crash, so was forbidden to be driven, Basham said.

- The Dominion Post

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