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Deadly Decisions

Deadly Decisions

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Huntsville, Alabamaol. 99, No. 127, 90 pagesontents © 2008, Huntsville Times
tatoreachchild?‘Squattershelpsellhomes.F1BikingtheAlpswithourEricSchultz.H1
We break more news at $1.50 Classifieds: 532-4222
JULY 27 / 2008
Full forecast,A22InsideREAD IT MONDAY:Tenchildren’s books to getthem ready for school.
GoosepondIslandresidentsworry  thatanindustrialsiteproposedfor theirneighborhoodmay disruptthe tranquilityofthearea.
Islandliving
IN NEWS:Athens manbuys site.PAGE A15
Congressapprovesmortgagerelieffor400,000strugglinghomeownersSaturdayaspartofanelection-yearhousingplan thatalsoaimstocalmjittery financialmarketsand bolsterthesaggingeconomy.
Housingrescue
IN NEWS:Measure awaits Bush’ssignature.PAGE A3
INSIDE:
$96
INCOUPONS!
IN PARADE:The world sawMarilyn Monroe as a sexsymbol, but failed to realizethat underneath that imagewas an empowered woman.THIS, BUD, IS FOR YOUThe end of U.S. Rep. BudCramer’s career in Congressis recognized with a specialsection honoring his work.
Drake Avenue
          P       a         t         t       o       n          R       o       a          d          R       e          d       s         t       o       n       e          A       r       s       e       n       a          l          B       o       u          l       e       v       a       r          d
Gate 8Gate 1
         R         i         d        e        o        u         t          R       o        a          d          T       o          f        t        o        y           D       r         i       v       e 
          B       u       r       o       s       e          R       o       a          d
        M        i        l        l      s          R      o       a        d 
   M  a  r   t   i  nR  o  a  d
  M a r  t  i nR o a d
          T       r          i       a       n       a          B       o       u          l       e       v       a       r          d          P       a         t         t       o       n          R       o       a          d
 
M     e    m    o    r    i     a    l     P     a    r    k    w    a     y    
A i r p o r tR o a d
1 2345786
SN
1:02:48
- WhiteBonneville begins toslow and pull over,but takes off again.
1:04:07
- South precinct notified ofchase coming into its jurisdiction;description and license platenumber dispatched again.
1:04:48
- Bonnevilleturns south onMemorial Parkway.
1:05:20
- Bonnevillesideswipes tan BuickLaSabre near AirportRoad exit ramp - Buickpulls over at oldRamada Inn.
1:06:51
- Vehicleveers onto MartinRoad exit.
1:07:03
- Unit asksdispatch to notifyarsenal.
1:08:06
- Bonneville runs through the gate. Alsoat exactly
1:08:06
, HPD dispatch tells Redstonedispatch, “We’ve got a pursuit going on; it’sheading toward the arsenal.”
1:09:00
- Redstone learns it’s Gate 1; HPDdispatch says, “It’s one of our unmarked units;our narcotics guys.”
1:09:46
- Passing Mills Road
1:09:57
- A south precinct supervisor tellsdispatch to keep additional south unitsoff the base – “They should have enoughfolks on the arsenal already.”
1:10:40
- A west precinct officer asks if theoffenders have been identified – dispatchasks this of STAC 11
1:10:52
-
Wreck at Rideout, according to STAC 4
1:11:05
- Units ask for ambulance
1:13:57
- Frank (traffic fatality) unit requested
Redstone Arsenal 
Huntsville TimesSource: Huntsville Police Department
A TIMES SPECIAL REPORT
Policechaseofalleged treet-leveldrugdealerndsinbystanderdeath
 y NIKI DOYLE
imesStaffWriter iki.doyle@htimes.com
N
ewlyreleasedrecordingsfromaMaypolicechasethatendedinafatalcrashonRed-stone Arsenal showuntsville police pursuedhefleeingcarformorethan8 minutes and 11 miles,rompting some expertso ask whether the chasehould have been abortedooner.The police recordings,equested by 
The Times
,hronicle the chase of 35-ear-oldValorieKeilCox,whofledpo-iceafteranallegeddrugdeal.Huntsvillepolicesaythepursuitfol-oweditspolicygivingofficerswidedis-retionwhentheybelievetheneedtoake an arrest outweighs the risk toublicsafety.Butexpertsquestionsomedecisionsfficersandtheirsupervisorsmadeatcriticalmomentsasthechaseunfold-ed:Didthewomenthatofficerssus-pectedofstreet-leveldrugdealingposethekindofdangerthatjustifiedahaz-ardouschase?Whydidofficerscontinuethepur-suiteventhoughtheyhadthecar’stagnumber,alikelygiveawaytotheirsus-pects’identitiesandaddresses?Why did the chasecontinue as the womensped onto heavily traveledSouthMemorialParkwayat70mphormoreandontoRedstoneArsenal,asecuremilitary base where theirescapewouldhavebeenun-likely? Anaddedcomplication wasthechasespeedingontofederalproperty.Po-liceradiologsshowthatRedstoneauthoritieshadonlyafractionofasecondwarningthatacarfleeingHuntsvillepolicewasabouttobreachasecuritygate.BythetimeHuntsvilledispatcherscouldrelaytheinformation,thecarhadalreadyca-
The driver
 Valorie Keil Cox,35, has pleadednot guilty to afederal chargeof second-degree murder.
The victim
Darren Spurlock,39, was anemployee of Marshall SpaceFlight Center.
Deadly decisions
To hear 911 audio recordings,go to blog.al.com/ht/chase
In today’s Times
• Most victimsof police chase ac-cidents are by-standers.
A6
• More pursuittraining is needed,but it comes at aprice.
A7
 Pleasesee
DEADLY
on
A6
Howthearsenalcrashunfolded
 
20 times moreinnocent driverskilled than cops
By JOHN PECK
TimesStaffWriter ohn.peck@htimes.com
Innocent motorists such as ASA engineer Darren Spur-ockare20timesmorelikelytobekilledthantheofficerwhenapolicechasegoesawry.From 2000 through 2006,accordingtotheNationalHigh-ayTrafficSafetyAdministra-tion, more than 2,500 peopleere killed during police pur-suits.Ofthose,40wereinthepolicevehicle,1,606wereinthechasedvehicle,785wereinan-other vehicle, and just under100werepedestrians. Alabamarecorded72police-chasefatalitiesinthoseyears.Of those, none were in the policecar,59wereinthefleeingvehi-cle,ninewereinanothervehi-cleandfourwereonfoot.PursuitWatch,anationalpo-ice chase watchdog organiza-tion,says14,000peoplearein-uredeachyearinpolicechas-es. According to its research,70,000 pursuits are launchedeachyearwith28,000resultinginwrecks.Dataonpolicechasesoftenconflict because pursuit re-porting is voluntary for many policeagencies.Also,manyvic-tims die days after a report isfiled,andtheirdeathsmaynot beattributedtoachase.Huntsville police only re-centlybeganreportingallpur-suits.Before,logswerefilledoutonly if there were injuries orpropertydamage. Whethertopursueasuspectposes a dilemma for officers, whomustweighthehazardsof a chase against the risk of let-tingasuspectgetaway.Police were chasing twostreet-level drug suspects onMay 30 when their carslammed into Spurlock’s onRedstone Arsenal. Spurlock,39,hadonlybeeninhisNAS jobfortwoweekswhentheac-cidentoccurred.HepreviouslhadworkedfortheBoeingCo.Spurlock left behind his wife,Kelly,andtwosons,ages6and3. A federal grand jury indict-ed the getaway driver, ValorieKeil Cox, on a second-degreemurdercharge.Prosecutorsac-cuse her of driving in a
man-nerwithextremeindifferencetohuman life.” She pleaded notguiltyThursday.John Harris Phillips, presi-dentoftheFlorida-basedPur-suitWatch.org, said an officerpursuing someone who hasnotcommittedaviolentcrimeisakinto
shootingaguninacrowded room. Sometimes,nothing will happen. Othertimes,you’llhitotherpeople.Phillipsinterestinchasesispersonal. His sister, SarahPhillips,diedin2001inacrash withafleeingvehicleinOrangeCounty,Fla. Sarah’sfather,thelate Jim Phillips, started Pur-suitWatch with the goal of pushingsaferandsmarterpo-lice pursuit policies. JohnPhillips took the helm of Pur-suitWatchwhenhisfatherdied.
Ithinkalotoftimes,theneg-ative perception is that if wedon’tpursue,thebadguysgetaway,Phillipstold
TheTimes
 by phone. Phillips questions theneed for pursuit if police haveatagnumberortheidentityof thesuspectandtheresnoim-minentdangertothepublic.
 Wherewecomefromis,dotheofficersbelievethefleeingcarisasuspectinaviolentcrimelikemurder,rape,armedrobbery?If that is not the case, it’s not worththerisktothepublicandofficersinvolvedtopursue,hesaid.Geoffrey Albert is a crimi-nologist at the University of SouthCarolinaandoneofthenation’sleadingexpertsonpur-suits. Alpert contends copsshouldn’tchaseasuspectunlessaviolentfelonyisinvolved.Butstudiesshowviolentactsrarelytriggerpolicechases.Ina2000studyfundedbyanarmoftheU.S.Departmentof Justice,Alpert’sresearchteamexamined144chasesandfoundthatdrivingastolencar
cited by 32 percent of drivers who were caught
was the mostcommon reason for runningfrompolice.Otherleadingcaus-es:28percentweredrivingwithsuspendedlicensesand22per-centweredrivingwhileintoxi-cated.HuntsvillePoliceChiefHenry Reyes agreed most motorists whotrytooutrunpolicearen’tdoingsobecauseofseriousof-fenses.
They’redrivingwithasus-pended license, or we have a warrantfortheirarrestforatraf-fic citation, things like that,Reyessaid.
Theysimplydon’tconsiderthe risk,” said Huntsville Pub-lic Safety Director RexReynolds. Alpertsaidthebiggestmythisthatifpolicedon’thaveachasepolicy,everyoneisgoingtorun. Anothermistakenidea,hesaid,is that people run because
there’s a dead body in every trunk.”Phillipssaidhedoubtsany-onecontemplatingaspeedinggetawayis
sittingonthefence waiting to see whether a de-partmenthasastrongpursuitpolicy. AndrewClarke,aMemphislawyerinvolvedinalandmarkU.S. Supreme Court case in apolicepursuitchallenge,saidpo-liceshouldshowrestraintbeforestartingpursuit.In2001,VictorHarris,then19,becameaquadriplegicina wreck caused by a Georgiadeputy’srammingHarris’flee-ingcar.Thecourtsupportedlawenforcement’s argument thatrunning a fleeing motorist off theroadwascertaintoeliminatetherisktothepublic.Thejoboflawenforcementin pursuits, said Clarke, is to
protect the public dependingontheseverityofthecrimethatprecipitatedthechase.Officerssometimesget
tun-nel vision” when making thesplit-seconddecisionwhethertopursue,hesaid.
Their decision-makingprocessistoughwhenfilledwiththatmuchadrenalineandcon-tempt for the person fleeing,”Clarkesaid.
Manytimes,thein-nocentpartiessafetyisnottheprimaryconsideration.
National and state pursuit deaths
Policevehicle
07040606090503
Chasedvehicle
6190522312248822911214623411268
Othervehicle
0103112111211106110821043122
Other
010022011113012216111
Totaldeaths631063701338610354123431035915404
AlabamaUnited StatesAlabamaUnited StatesAlabamaUnited StatesAlabamaUnited StatesAlabamaUnited StatesAlabamaUnited StatesAlabamaUnited States
The Huntsville TimesSource: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
2000200120022003200420052006
reenedthroughfiveserpen-tinebarriers.•••••Public Safety Director RexReynoldssaidHuntsville’spol-icyallowsjudgmentcallsintheieldandthat,despitethehighspeedsandthedeathofaNASA engineer, officers were withinpolicyduringthechase.ReynoldssaidinaninterviewThursday that he and PoliceChief Henry Reyes are
 botherycomfortablewithourpur-suitpolicy....Youcannotwriteapolicythatcanevertakeaway anofficer’sdiscretion.That’sjusta vital part of law enforce-ment.”Four Huntsville police pur-suitsoutof294since2003havebeenfoundtobe
outofpolicy,accordingtopolicedocumentsobtainedby 
TheTimes
.JohnHarrisPhillips,directorof the watchdog site Pursuit-atch.org, said officers oftenavetherightintentionsbutcanose sight of their No. 1 goal
eepingthepublicsafe
 wheninhotpursuitofa
 badguy.Phillips questions the needor pursuits if police have thesuspect’stagnumberor iden-tity, especially if the suspect isunlikelytobeanimminentdan-ger.
Ithinkalotoftimestheneg-ative perception is, if we don’tpursue,thebadguysgetaway.That’snotthecase,saidPhillips,hose organization does ex-tensive research into pursuitpoliciesandincidents.If,asinthiscase,thepursuitbeganbecauseofastreet-leveldrugdealandthepolicehadthe vehicles tag number, Phillipssaid,
thepursuitshouldneverhavetakenplace.But Reynolds said the dy-namic of the chase changed whensuspectValorieCoxside-swipedacaronMemorialPark- wayneartheoldRamadaInn.Coxwentfrombeingasus-pected drug offender to a womanwhohadcommittedafelony in front of officers,Reynolds said. Leaving thescene of an accident with in- juries
thesideswipedcar’sdriv-ercomplainedofneckpain
isaClassCfelonypunishableby ayearandadayto10yearsinprison.
The pursuit on Drake Av-enue
thespeedswerenotout-rageous,Reynoldssaid.
Itwasrecordedat55mphonafour-lane split roadway. Only thendidthepursuitcomeupinthe70s when they turned on theParkway.
 AssoonastheyturnedontheParkway,theystruckacarandcommittedafelony.Itwasavery unfortunate set of circum-stancesthatmadethiscontin-ue.”•••••
1:02:05 p.m.Chase begins
Pursuingofficer:
 We’vegotawomanrunning,PattonandFoster,northboundonPatton.Huntsville dispatch:
STAC11,Iwastakingaphonecall;10-9your10-20(Repeatyourlo-cation). You’re southbound where?”Pursuing officer:
Headingnorthbound on Patton, Alphatagnumberforty-sevenyankeefourfourfourtangoonawhitePontiacBonneville.(Radio logs show that dis-patchers and officers gave outthe car’s description
a whitePontiacBonneville
andlicenseplate number twice before itreached Memorial Parkway,andagainsecondslater.)•••••ThechasestartedwithwhatappearedtobeadrugdealinaneighborhoodoffDrakeAvenueandPattonRoadatthetailendofaFridaylunchhour.DrugagentswiththeStrate-gic Counterdrug Team, orSTAC,amultiagencytaskforceoperatingunderHuntsvillePo-liceDepartmentpolicies,spot-tedCoxandherpassenger,36- year-old Paulette Woodall,seemingly selling or buyingdrugs. Accordingtoanaffidavitfiledin federal court in support of charges against Cox, STACagents stopped the women’sBonneville on Foster Drive.Thecartookoffasofficersap-proached.The women began to stopagainintheareaofDrakeAv-enueandPennyStreetbutfled before officers could speak tothem.Officers followed the Bon-neville east on Drake Avenueand south on Memorial Park- way.OntopoftheoverpassnorthofAirportRoad,theBonnevillesideswipedatanBuickLaSabre
 withenoughforcethatpursu-ing officers thought the chase wasover,FBIagentCurtisG.Parkerwroteintheaffidavit.ButCoxandWoodalldidn’tslowdown.Reynolds said speeds ap-proached70mphasCoxspeddowntheParkway,weavinginandoutoftrafficanddodgingpeoplereturningtoworkafterlunch.TheaffidavitsaidCoxjumpedthe median at Golf Road and veered onto the Martin Roadexit,headingwesttowardthear-senal’sGate1.Officers began laying tire-puncturing stop sticks on theeastbound lanes of MartinRoad,thinkingthedriverwouldpanic at the sight of the flash-inglights,barriersandguardsattheRedstoneArsenalgate.ThetimeittookforCoxand Woodall to travel from Drake AvenueandPattonRoadtotheMartinRoadexit:4minutes,46seconds.•••••
1:07:58 p.m.Huntsville police dispatchcalls Redstone authorities
Huntsville dispatch:
Hey,thisisHPD.Redstone Arsenal dispatch:
Hello,HPD.Huntsville dispatch:
Howareyou?Redstone Arsenal dispatch:
Oh, just having a lovely day,howaboutyou?”Huntsville dispatch:
 Well, we’ve got a pursuit going onthat’sheadingtowardthearse-nal.”Redstone Arsenal dispatch:
Uh-oh,OK.Whatgives?”•••••Dispatchershadlessthantwominutestorelaythepursuitin-formationtoRedstoneArsenalfrom the moment the Bon-nevilleweavedtowardtheMar-tin Road exit to the time itreachedGate1.Reyes and Reynolds havesaid from the beginning thatcommunicationbetweenagen-ciesisproblematic,andthatthelagcausedbydispatchershav-ing to phone one another cancostofficersvaluableseconds.
 We’vebeenveryhonestthatthey just did not have time toreact,” Reynolds said.
Clearly,communications was an issueinthiscase.•••••
1:08:06 p.m.Bonneville breaches gate
HuntsvilledispatchtoRed-stonedispatch:
 We’vegotapur-suitgoingonthat’sheadingto- wardthearsenal.PursuingofficertoHuntsvilledispatch,alsoat1:08:06p.m.:
Going through the gate atRedstone,runningthroughthegateatRedstone.Huntsville dispatch:
10-4,unitscopy:She’swentthroughthegateatRedstone.•••••Immediatelyafterthecrash,Redstone and Huntsville offi-cials admitted that communi-
Deadly
Continuedfrompage
A7
Huntsville police in pursuit
2003 2004 2005 2006 20073848186498
Because the department s pursuit policy wasnot clear on when a pursuit had to be reportedto the administration,officers were onlysubmitting pursuitreports when thechase resulted inproperty damage orinjury, Reyes said.The policy wasclarified in 2006.
A sharp increase in recent yearsThe results of pursuit crashes
Damaged policevehiclesInjured officerInjured suspectInjured passengerInjured bystanderSuspect deaths3x101007x200004x..08001*11x150009x53112
* A passenger in a fleeing vehicle died in a crash after the pursuit was terminated. Thedriver and another passenger were injured and included in the suspect column abovebecause all three passengers were suspected of being involved in a drug deal.
2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Reasons given by police for pursuing 
Traffic violationFelony suspectCall for serviceAssisting anotherofficer47%47%5%0
*According toapursuit analysis, these pursuits were forpeople suspected ofinvolvementin any crime.
2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
46%42%12%050%33%*17%045%39%11%5%63%23%13%0
The speed factor
Max. mph attainedAvg. mph in pursuit*Greatest mph abovethe posted limitNumber of pursuits40 mph above limit11572115ina50**5
** This officer was disciplined.
2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
11572108ina401112072120ina40513070108ina408102N/A100ina4527
Source: Huntsville Police DepartmentThe Huntsville Time s
A dramatic uptick in pursuits in 2006 and 2007 can be attributedto an increased focus on traffic enforcement, a priority for thedepartment after Alabama s traffic fatalities increased 5 percentfrom 2005 to 2006, Police Chief Henry Reyes said.
In 2008, there were28pursuits from January through May.
* Average speed in high-speed pursuit.
 Pleasesee
DEADLY
on
A7
Police policy
The police department’s policy notes at least eight factors thatinfluence whether a supervisor would call off a pursuit:1. whether the decision to pursue creates more danger to thepublic than the need for immediate apprehension2. the performance capabilities of the police vehicle and driver3. the seriousness of the perceived emergency4. roadway conditions, either structural or weather-related5. pedestrian traffic6. speed, as well as how erratically the suspect is driving7. direction of traffic flow and traffic volume8. whether or not the person being pursued can be identifiedand apprehended at a later time, and whether the continuance of a pursuit creates a greater danger to the public than the need forimmediate apprehension
Chase victims often bystanders
he pursuit ended with this fatal crash just inside Redstone Arsenal on Martin Road.
They’re driving with asuspended license, orwe have a warrant for their arrest for a trafficcitation, things like that.They simply don’tconsider the risk.”
Henry Reyes
 Huntsvillepolicechief  
 You cannot write apolicy that can ever take away an officer’sdiscretion. That’s just avital part of lawenforcement.”
Rex Reynolds
 Directorofpublicsafety
A6
The Huntsville Times, Sunday, July 27, 2008

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