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Pursuit policy probed in wake of crash

Published: Tue, June 7, 2011 @ 12:03 a.m.


Under the Youngstown Police Department’s pursuit policy, police must consider the following factors in deciding whether to initiate or continue a pursuit of a fleeing suspect:

The seriousness of the offense.

Traffic density.

Road and weather conditions.

Opportunity to arrest the violator at a later time.

Safety of the public, officers and the suspect.

Ability to arrest without engaging in a pursuit.

Availability of pursuit- ending equipment, such as stop-sticks that deflate a fleeing vehicle’s tires.

Source: Youngstown Police Department

By Peter H. Milliken



The city police department has launched an internal-affairs investigation into the early morning police pursuit that ended in the death of a 19-year-old woman who crashed a speeding stolen car into a Wick Avenue church Sunday.

Lt. Brian Butler, who heads the internal-affairs division, said he has begun the probe by asking for the 911 tapes pertaining to the chase.

After an autopsy Monday by Dr. Joseph Ohr, Mahoning County’s forensic pathologist and deputy coroner, the coroner’s office ruled the death of Satavia Douglass of Southern Boulevard accidental due to head injuries from the crash.

The purpose of the probe, which Butler said he hopes can be completed in about two weeks, is to determine whether police involved in the chase correctly followed the department’s pursuit policy.

That complex policy, governing split-second decisions police must make before and during a vehicular chase, consumes seven single-spaced, typed pages and lists a multitude of factors police must consider.

“You have to look at the totality of the circumstances of the chase” to determine the proper course of action, Butler said, promising “a very thorough” probe.

Police must balance the need to apprehend the suspect with the need to protect bystanders’ safety, he explained. “We rely on our supervisors for direct supervision to do that,” he added.

The probe will examine the actions of the pursuing patrolmen, Arthur Carter, and James Rowley, and their turn commander, Lt. Douglas Bobovynik, who monitored the chase. The officers involved in the chase remain on duty as the matter is investigated.

Police responded shortly after midnight Saturday to a reported break-in and car theft at Jordan’s Auto Sales, a used car dealership at 839 Wick Ave.

Police saw the car, a 2002 Mitsubishi Lancer estimated to be worth $1,200, leave the dealership, jump a curb and speed south on Wick Avenue, without its headlights or taillights shining, Carter wrote in the police report.

With city police pursuing, with lights and sirens activated, Douglass lost control near Lincoln Avenue and swerved several times, the report said.

After hitting a retaining wall and going airborne for 105 feet over the church lawn, the stolen car crashed into First Presbyterian Church, 201 Wick Ave.

The police report put Douglass’ speed at more than 50 mph, but Rye Dalton, church treasurer, said police at the scene estimated the fleeing car’s speed at 80 to 100 mph.

C. Allen Pierce, professor of criminal justice at Youngstown State University, a former police officer and police academy pursuit- driving instructor, said he would have pursued the driver of the stolen car under these circumstances if he were an officer on duty.

“It’s a felony in progress. There’s no reason not to,” he said. “You’d be neglecting your duty if you didn’t [follow the fleeing driver],” he said. Police lights and sirens would be necessary to warn the public of the errant driver, he added.

Police policy generally calls for chasing fleeing felons, and the driver of the fleeing car would appear to fit that description, Butler said. Generally, police policy calls for aborting a chase if continuing it is likely to injure innocent bystanders, Butler said.

Sgt. Patricia Garcar, accident investigator, declined comment because the crash still is under investigation.

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