Deadly crash puts police chase policies in spotlight
Burlington, Vermont - December 29, 2010
Friends of Kaye Borneman visited the site where the Burlington woman lost her life. They came with a message following a car crash here Sunday night-- don't drink and drive.
Police say Borneman was killed by fleeing suspect Timothy Dowd.
It all started on Elmwood Avenue. Police stopped Dowd. But when the officer approached, they say Dowd took off, leading police on a three-minute chase downtown--that ended in tragedy. Borneman was broadsided and killed instantly.
Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Tom Tremblay says pursuits are not taken lightly by police.
"We are ultimately responsible for public safety so we take it very seriously when we have to engage in pursuit that could potentially cause difficulties for our community," Tremblay said.
Dowd told police he reached speeds of 60 mph. Burlington Police say they backed off once they hit Main Street going about 50 mph. Four cruisers were involved in the chase.
Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling said the officers did everything by the book. But the case is being reviewed internally which is protocol.
Reporter Gina Bullard: Do you think it's appropriate to have a police officer pursuing someone at 50 mph through downtown Burlington?
Chief Schirling: That's a speculative question. I'm not going to go there.
Bullard: Do you regret that your officer pursued Mr. Dowd?
Schirling: I'm not going to go there.
The chase has some people wondering if police did the right thing.
"It seems as though the benefit of the chase wouldn't be greater than the risk and cost to innocent people," said Delia Clark, who opposes the decision by police.
"I think they responded, they were on the scene, he fled the scene. I think they did exactly what they should of and probably prevented more tragedy," said Allen Thompson, who supports the decision by police.
Burlington Police policy indicates a chase can start for any violation but the chief says officers evaluate things like road conditions, traffic, and time of day before engaging in pursuit.
"Incredibly complex and dynamic circumstances that evolve on a second to second basis," Schirling said.
That's the case at most police stations across the state where similar policies are in place. The public safety department says pursuit policies aren't to blame in this case, but Dowd is.
"I think the person responsible for this crash is the person fleeing from the police," Tremblay said. "The police have no alternative but to chase a law violator who's already putting the public at risk with their driving."
But Burlington Police say they will review their policy following this tragedy.
"In light of everything that's happened it makes sense to have a dialogue if there's a better legal framework and a potential policy overlay," Schirling said.
Vermont State Police are reviewing the crash, but not the pursuit. The only investigation into that, again, will be internal by the Burlington Police Department.
A check of policies at out-of-state police departments, like New York and Los Angeles, found the policies are very similar. Schirling says the dilemma of pursuits is a problem affecting departments across the nation.
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