28 September 2012 - An independent investigation of a fatal Police pursuit in Te Puke in October 2010 has found Police were justified in initially trying to stop the driver but should have subsequently abandoned the pursuit because of a number of risk factors.
At around 5.34am on Friday 8 October 2010, a stolen Toyota Hilux Surf 4x4 vehicle driven by Harley Kendrick Sean Wilson crashed on Jellicoe Street in Te Puke while fleeing Police. Mr Wilson, aged 21, and his passenger, Michael Adam Kaui Keepa, aged 25, both died at the scene.
The pursuit lasted for about 17 and a half minutes, and covered a distance of about 38.5 kilometres. It took place in three stages and involved an attempted use of road spikes during the first stage.
Mr Wilson and Mr Keepa had stolen the vehicle from Levin and driven to the Bay of Plenty to visit family and friends. The pursuit started in Mt Maunganui when officers saw the vehicle pull over as it approached a traffic alcohol checkpoint and suspected the driver was trying to avoid Police.
Mr Wilson drove off at speed and was pursued by two Police vehicles from Mt Maunganui to Papamoa Beach, where he swerved to avoid road spikes. Police abandoned the pursuit.
However it was recommenced about one and half minutes later when another Police vehicle spotted the fleeing driver heading south towards Te Puke. A fourth Police vehicle then joined as the pursuit entered its third stage. As they reached Te Puke the Police vehicles were travelling 135 kph in a 50 kph zone. Officers had earlier reached a speed of up to 160 kph in a 100 kph zone.
Mr Wilson lost control of the Toyota at a corner and crashed down a grass bank into a lamp post and tree. A crash investigator estimated he was travelling at least 110 kph in a 50 kph zone. A blood sample showed Mr Wilson had 7 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The legal limit is 80 milligrams.
The Authority considered whether Police complied with the law and pursuit policy at each stage of the pursuit, specifically in relation to: the commencement and recommencement of the pursuit; communication; speed and manner of driving; and the ongoing risk assessment/abandonment.
The Authority also investigated whether Police complied with policy in relation to the use of road spikes, specifically in relation to: the pre-deployment vehicle check; the decision to use road spikes; selection of the deployment site; and the actual deployment.
Harley Wilson demonstrated by his actions that he was prepared to risk his life and the lives of others to avoid being caught by Police.
Officers were justified in attempting to stop Mr Wilson. They later discovered he was also driving a stolen vehicle. Although Police did consider the risks involved at each stage of the pursuit, these risk assessments did not properly take into account the sustained high speed of the fleeing vehicle, particularly on roads with 50-70 kph speed limits.
During stage 1, given the high speed and residential road, the pursuit should have been abandoned in the early stages when it reached speeds of 115 and 120 kph in a 50 kph area. Following this, there were several other reports of unacceptably high speed, which also should have led to the pursuit being abandoned. Two officers should have carried out a pre-deployment check of their patrol car and the road spike equipment carried in it before leaving the Police station.
During stage 2, the officers and the pursuit controller should have abandoned the pursuit once they realised that Mr Wilson had recommenced driving far in excess of the posted speed limit and had no intention of stopping for Police.
During stage 3, given the clear risk factors, the pursuit should have been abandoned before it reached the 70 kph speed zone on the outskirts of Te Puke.
The sustained high speeds reached by the pursuing officers were dangerous to the public, the occupants of the fleeing vehicle and the officers themselves.
Section 27 opinion
Section 27(1) of the Independent Police Conduct Authority Act 1988 requires the Authority to form an opinion as to whether or not any act, omission, conduct, policy, practice or procedure the subject-matter of an investigation was contrary to law, unreasonable, unjustified, unfair or undesirable.
Pursuant to section 27(1) of the Act, the Authority has formed the opinion that:
• the failure by Officers A and B and the pursuit controller to abandon the pursuit during stage 1 was unjustified;
• the failure of Officers C and D to carry out a pre-deployment check of their patrol car and the equipment carried in it was undesirable;
• the attempted use of road spikes on a vehicle travelling at more than 100 kph by Officers C and D and the pursuit controller was undesirable;
• the failure by Officer E and the pursuit controller to abandon the pursuit during stage 2 was unjustified; and
• the failure by Officer G and the pursuit controller to abandon the pursuit before it entered the outskirts of Te Puke was unjustified.
Section 27(2) recommendations
The Authority notes that the Fleeing Driver policy now requires officers to continually relay the applicable speed limits during a pursuit, and therefore makes no recommendation in that respect.
Pursuant to section 27(2) of the Act, the Authority recommends that:
• all frontline and NorthComms staff involved in this pursuit be reminded of the risks of pursuing at such a high speed; and
• all staff are reminded of the importance of carrying out a pre-deployment check of their patrol car and the equipment carried in it prior to use and of ensuring that the equipment carried is in a safe operating condition.