Chase crashes: police breached policy - authority

An Independent Police Conduct Authority investigation has found an experienced policeman was speeding after two fleeing cars without his flashing lights or siren on.

Moments later a person was dead and another seriously injured when one of the cars crashed into a tree.

The authority has today released a report into the fatal crash in Palmerston North and another serious crash in Lower Hutt.

Police officers breached pursuit policy in both incidents, the reports say.

In the first crash Jason Luke Downes, 25, died after the Honda Civic he was driving careered into a water-filled ditch between Maxwells Line and the Mangaone Bridge in May 2010.

According to the authority's report two cars, one driven by Downes, were clocked by a police radar driving at 128 kilometres per hour in a 50kmh zone about 11.20pm.

They were driving side-by-side and the officer thought they were racing each other.

He turned on his car's flashing lights to try and stop them, however they sped by.

The officer did a U-turn and followed.

"The drivers of both cars immediately turned off their headlights and increased their speed in an attempt to evade apprehension."

The policeman radioed that he was following the cars, but "not pursuing". He later said: "My intent at the time was to keep them within sight only, and not alarm them any further to go faster."

Downes' car crashed moments later after he swerved to miss another car.

"His Honda slid across the road, hit a tree, and landed in a drainage ditch filled with water. The impact tore the car into two pieces," the report said.

The officer did not realise Downes' car had crashed and continued after the second car.

The police officer was justified trying to stop both speeding cars, but did not comply with pursuit policy, the report found.

"(He) breached the pursuit and urgent driving policy by exceeding the speed limit without activating his patrol car's warning light's and siren. Although the officer did not believe he was engaged in a pursuit, he was engaged in urgent duty driving and should have activated his warning lights and siren."

The authority recommended the policeman receive remedial training and police clarify policy around following vehicles at speed.

In the second crash Benjamin Eden, aged 26, suffered serious head injuries when his car crashed into a power pole on Eastern Hutt Rd in September 2010.

It was estimated Eden was driving up to 110kmh in a 50kmh at the time of the crash, the report said.

He later pleaded guilty to dangerous driving, failing to stop for police red and blue flashing lights and driving with a suspended licence.

The police officer who pursued Mr Eden reached speeds of up to 150kmh.

"The speed at which the patrol car was driven, whilst lawful, was undesirable."

The report recommended the police officer received remedial training and that police should continue with the roll out of hands-free technology in all vehicles.

The Dominion Post