The Minnesota State Patrol's policy on police chases dictates that a pursuit should be discontinued if there is "clear and unreasonable danger," and the family of a man killed by a chased driver wants to know why troopers kept going.
The wisdom of a police chase is almost always measured in hindsight, and the state trooper who pulled over 34-year-old Lia Her on Interstate 94 at 1 a.m. on Sunday morning could not have known the suspected drunk driver would take off again.
The trooper gave chase, traveling from I-94 into downtown Minneapolis across the 3rd Avenue bridge. On four separate occasions, the trooper tried to use a PIT maneuver to stop Her's vehicle and end the chase, but Her got away each time. That left the trooper watching helplessly as Her T-boned a car in the intersection of Central Avenue and 4th Street SE, killing the driver and critically wounding his passenger. From start to finish, the chase lasted 3 minutes and 10 seconds.
The family of the innocent driver, 20-year-old Brody Sotona, released a statement that publicly questioned why the trooper continued the high-speed chase if "they already had the suspect's license plate."
"If they would not have pushed him, our son and brother would still be alive today," the statement read in part.
Read the full statement here: http://bit.ly/1ay727b
On Monday, Lt. Eric Roeske defended the decision to chase Her, saying pursuits involve a constant evaluation of which is the greater concern -- apprehending the violator or the threat to the public.
There is little doubt that Her was a threat to the public behind the wheel. His driver's license had been suspended and was not valid at the time of the crash. His record shows 17 driving violations, 10 of which were for speeding. Furthermore, Roeske said alcohol was detected on him once he was taken into custody.
"You have a suspected drunk driver. Drunk drivers kill over 100 people a year. Do you just let him go, or do you try to stop him?" Roeske asked. "Obviously, in hindsight, you can come up with a lot of answers."
Answers are what Sotona's family now seek as they begin to mourn the sudden loss. They want to know why the chase continued when troopers already had Her's license plate number and could have tracked him down instead of chasing him into downtown.
Minneapolis police never even had a chance to get involved in the pursuit, but it is interesting to note that the department's policy requires a supervisor to be involved on the two-way. On Sunday night, the Minnesota State Patrol didn't have a supervisor on duty. Instead, that supervisor was on call.
The MSP policy on chases also states that pursuits should be discontinued if the offense is a "misdemeanor or nonviolent felony" and the suspect could be identified, but the agency won't confirm whether the pursuing officer had a plate -- or even how fast they may have been driving. At this point, it's all part of the investigation.
Yet, Roeske made it clear the agency had to wonder what would have happened if they had called off the chase and Her still killed someone, and the agency still believes there is one person to blame -- the driver who fled.
"This driver was a threat to the general public prior to this crash, prior to the stop," Roeske contended. "This whole thing could have been avoided if he had just remained stopped."
Nearly three years ago, on Dec. 5, 2010, another chase near downtown Minneapolis killed a mother and two children when the suspect cashed into them while the trooper's squad was three blocks away.
The trooper involved in this fatal crash has yet to be interviewed and has been placed on paid administrative leave.