Long wait for answers over police pursuit
An inquiry into the deaths of two Levin men killed after a high-speed police chase has only dredged up painful memories for their mothers.
Harley Kendrick Sean Wilson, 21, and Michael Adam Kaui Keepa, 25, were killed when the stolen ute driven by Wilson crashed at high speed near Te Puke early on October 8, 2010.
An Independent Police Conduct Inquiry found police were right to give chase when Wilson appeared to be trying to evade a checkpoint by pulling over, but should have pulled out of the 17 minute, 38.5km pursuit numerous times, and did not properly take into account the sustained high speed of Wilson's fleeing vehicle.
Wilson's mother Justine Hill said she agreed with the finding that the pursuit should have been called off sooner, but would have liked that information two years ago.
Miss Hill said she received the findings in booklet form on Tuesday, personally delivered by investigators from Wellington.
"Reading the report, it's like actually being there."
With the timing of the findings and the second anniversary of the crash looming, instead of bringing some closure, the report had "just brought it all back up again".
"It's been a hard three days," she said.
She didn't think the officers involved in the pursuit deserved to face any punishment.
Her only son of four children, she laughingly called Wilson a "bit of a hangman", who "had a heart" and loved his nephew, who was two at the time he was killed.
"I'm still finding it hard, the girls have had their ups and downs."
Although she missed him, Miss Hill was realistic about the part he played in the accident.
"He shouldn't have taken it [the car] . . . you can replace a vehicle but you can't replace a person."
Why he didn't stop for police was a question she didn't have an answer to.
"I do wonder, though," she said.
Miss Hill said she remained in contact with Keepa's mother, Tanea Keepa, who also lives in Levin.
At the time of the accident they supported each other, but didn't have as much contact now, she said.
Miss Keepa agreed with Miss Hill about the report, saying she was "all good" with the outcome of the investigation, but wished it had come sooner. "I didn't really need it again, it's nearly two years now.
"It [the chase] should have been aborted but at the end of the day they weren't going to stop anyone."
Miss Keepa said her son was a good dad to his daughter Sharnika, now five, and she missed him.
"He was a good kid, who got into trouble and went the wrong way.
"You can't really blame anyone. The police were just doing their job".
IPCA suggestions in force - commander
Recommendations in the Independent Police Conduct Authority's report had already been carried out, Bay of Plenty district commander Superintendent Glenn Dunbier said in a statement issued in response to the findings.
Investigations into the pursuit found police were justified in trying to stop the ute but the chase should have been abandoned earlier.
The authority recommended officers involved in the pursuit of Wilson and Keepa be reminded of the need to carry out pre-deployment checks of their equipment and the risks associated with high-speed pursuits.
At their fastest, police were travelling up to 160kmh on the open highway and were travelling at 135kmh in a 50kmh zone as they neared Te Puke, where the crash happened.
Reminders of the nature of those recommended were being issued routinely to all staff across the Bay of Plenty, Mr Dunbier said. The police had already expressed their sympathy to the families of Wilson and Keepa at the time of the crash but did so again.
"Police officers go to work to help people and no officer wants anyone to lose their life."
Mr Dunbier said the ute was a stolen vehicle and it was clear when it stopped short of an alcohol checkpoint that its occupants were trying to evade police.
"Police have a responsibility to both protect life and to enforce the law, and it is often a difficult balance to strike," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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