Officer should have stopped chase - IPCA

TRACEY CHATTERTON
Last updated 12:01 09/05/2013
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Police should have abandoned a high-speed car chase which preceded a crash killing three people, according to an independent report.

Dylan James Kingi, 28, died when the car he was driving crashed on Nelson Rd in Gisborne following a police pursuit on July 14 last year.

Peter John Bunyan, 27, and Holly Kay Gunn, 25, also died at the scene, while a third passenger, Claire Sophie Badger, then aged 25, managed to crawl from the car which was almost unrecognisable.

It had smashed through trees and fences and left a power pole shattered.

In a report released today, the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) ruled that the officer was justified in beginning a pursuit when a speeding car failed to stop when signalled to do so.

But the officer should have called off the chase earlier because speeds as high as 127 kmh in a residential, 50 kmh area, posed a risk.

At about 9.40 that night, an officer turned on his warning lights, signalling a speeding Mitsubishi sedan to stop.

But the car being driven By Mr Kingi sped off. He and his friends had been drinking at a house party earlier that night. Blood tests revealed that Mr Kingi was more than twice the legal limit to drive.

The officer notified the communications centre that he was commencing a pursuit. He chased the car for about one-and-a-half minutes over 2.5 kilometres.

Despite reaching speeds of 127 kmh, the officer could not catch up to the Mitsubishi.

The officer called off the chase after he lost sight of the car. The officer spoke to pedestrians as he searched for the car. He found it crashed into a power pole on Nelson Rd. He called for ambulances and the Fire Service.

Ms Badger was taken to hospital but the other three died at the scene due to severe head injuries.

A sample of Mr Kingi’s blood taken after the crash was found to contain 210 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood – the legal limit is 80mg.

Mr Kingi had four previous convictions for drink-driving.  He was also driving without a licence.

The inquest into the three deaths is yet to be held by the coroner.

The authority ruled that 127 kmh was too fast in a residential area. The officer’s siren use, reporting of speed limits, abandonment and searching was found not to comply with police policy.

The communications centre dispatcher also recorded the speed limit inaccurately, which misled the pursuit controller about the risks involved in the pursuit.

The dispatcher should have confirmed the speed limit while the pursuit controller should have made sure the officer complied with the requirements of the fleeing driver policy.

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Police failures were either ‘‘unjustified or undesirable’’, the report said.

The authority has made multiple recommendations to the Police Commissioner. It has asked that the fleeing driver policy be amended requiring officers to state a specific reason for commencing a pursuit.

It also recommends compulsory drug and alcohol testing of officers involved in critical incidents and makes suggestions about the digital roll-out and the implementation of hands-free technology in all vehicles.

Eastern District Commander Superintendent Sam Hoyle said police accepted the authority's findings and had already reinforced to staff police policy around pursuits.

The officer involved had since undergone a police driving programme and been recertified as a ‘‘gold’’ licensed drive.

‘‘He is well aware now of his responsibilities should such an event occur again,’’ Mr Hoyle said.

Road policing staff had been reminded of the importance of  ‘‘absolute compliance’’ towards police pursuit policies.

‘‘I know my staff will be extra vigilant in any future pursuits they undertake.  We will continue to review every crash where a pursuit has been involved as per our protocols,’’ he said.

Both the dispatcher and the pursuit controller involved, had also taken part in refresher training. Communication Centres were also reviewing their practices for handing control of fleeing driver incidents from one supervisor to another.

 

- The Dominion Post

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