When a Bellingham police officer noticed a stolen Chrysler 300 parked at a restaurant, no one realized how desperate the thief would be to keep the car. Instead of stopping when the officer tried to pull her over, she sped off. Officers giving chase estimated that her speed was close to 100 miles per hour.
Bellingham police called off the chase, but the Whatcom County Sherriff’s department began pursuing the car as it approached Lynden. Officers set up a spike trap on the road; when the thief swerved to avoid the trap, her car hit a concrete median and spun across the southbound lanes of River Road. The stolen car slid down an embankment, smashed through a fence, and rolled over.
Emergency responders arrived at the scene of the crash to find the female driver, a male passenger, and a baby girl in the car. Although the child was not wearing a restraint or seat belt, she was not hurt in the crash. “It was very, very lucky,” said Sgt. Mark Francis of the state patrol.
The 19-year-old female driver was taken to a local hospital for treatment and then booked into Whatcom County Jail. Police are investigating charges including attempting to elude a police officer, reckless endangerment, driving with a suspended license, and possession of a stolen car. She has been convicted of five previous car thefts, twice as an adult and three times as a juvenile. She was apparently a house guest of the person she stole the Chrysler 300 from, and her criminal record shows a history of other thefts of cares from friends and relatives.
A 20-year-old male passenger in the car was not hurt; reports do not say whether he is also being investigated by the police. He was holding the baby girl in his arms at the time of the crash, and one news report says that he is the little girl’s father.
Why police are reevaluating the value of dangerous high-speed chases
After a high number of crashes involving injuries, police departments throughout Washington state are examining their current procedures for pursuing fleeing suspects. High-speed pursuits often end in crashes; sometimes innocent bystanders are injured by the fleeing driver or a patrol car in pursuit, and sometimes the suspect ends up dying after crashing his or her vehicle.
Injured victims of a high-speed pursuit can face some unique challenges when it’s time to pay their medical bills. Fleeing criminals often do not have insurance, and drivers who steal cars are highly unlikely to have insurance or assets to help pay for their victims’ medical bills. Victims may be able to receive some help from the Washington State Crime Victims Compensation program. They may also be able to use their own insurance plan’s Personal Injury Protection and Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage. In some cases, a police department or the Department of Corrections may be liable if they did not follow proper procedures or failed to supervise a criminal.