A traffic stop turned into a 22-minute high-speed chase by Bexar County Sheriff’s Department deputies and then a Department of Public Safety helicopter that ended Wednesday when the fleeing driver lost control of his vehicle, flipped over, and was killed.
In addition to the teenage driver’s death, two of his three teenage passengers, including a pregnant girl, were hospitalized. The third passenger was unhurt.
The San Antonio Police Department and many other big city police departments around the country have a policy prohibiting such high-speed chases for non-violent crimes and routine traffic stops because of the frequency of deadly crashes that can occur, often involving third-party drivers unable to avoid the speeding vehicles.
Deputies recovered a stolen handgun from the truck, according to Bexar County Sheriff’s Office spokesman James Keith, who said one or more of the individuals involved in the wreck could be responsible for at least one recent burglary.
Keith said the chase began when a sheriff’s deputy pulled over a speeding truck in the 1700 block of Crestway Road in Windcrest around 8:50 a.m. When the driver decided to flee the scene, deputies gave chase. Deputies followed the driver until he reached O’Connor Road when a DPS helicopter, which had been on standby, took over.
The San Antonio Police Department‘s pursuit policy requires officers to avoid high-speed chases unless the suspect has committed or is about to commit a violent felony or misdemeanor with a firearm. The department changed its pursuit policy in 2013, due to the high number of accidental deaths that occurred during these pursuits.
The Bexar County Sheriff’s Department frequently summons DPS helicopters in vehicle chases, because “it allows the deputies to back off, its safer,” Keith said. “In most situations the driver will slow down or stop because they don’t think they’re being followed. For whatever reason, this (driver) didn’t.”
A supervisor has the option of calling off a pursuit. Why such a long pursuit occurred to begin with has not been explained by county law enforcement officials.
The driver died at the scene, while the pregnant teen and a boy who complained of neck pain were hospitalized. A third teen was taken in for questioning. At least one passenger told deputies that they didn’t know why the driver wouldn’t stop.
The department “is not reevaluating the pursuit policy at this time,” Keith said.
Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau declined to discuss details of the case, but said that “our deputies are always in contact with deputy personnel” during a pursuit.
“There are sometimes differences in policy, different dynamics of an operation,” Pamerleau said. “Our deputies are required to make split-second decisions where they don’t have time to wait. By the time one of our deputies is on patrol, they already have over 2,000 hours of training. We want to make sure our deputies are trained prepared and experienced to make decision.”
Top Image: Courtesy of Bexar County.