Houston police are urging legislators to strengthen penalties for individuals involved in high-speed chases, following a tragic incident that resulted in the death of a 19-year-old bystander.
The incident occurred around 2 a.m. on November 27, when officers observed two vehicles racing at speeds exceeding 100 mph on Interstate 45. Houston police officers initiated a pursuit with air support, which ended after one of the vehicles, later revealed to be stolen, exited the highway, ran a red light and collided with a motorcyclist. The suspect continued to flee until his vehicle broke down about half a mile from the crash scene and he was taken into custody.
Despite efforts by officers to perform CPR at the scene, the 19-year-old victim succumbed to his injuries.
Executive Assistant Chief Larry Satterwhite expressed the gravity of the situation.
“We have a complainant who won’t go home to his family because a suspect in a stolen vehicle refused to stop and ran again from police, ending up killing him at an intersection,” Satterwhite said.
Highlighting the urgency for legislative action, Satterwhite called for stronger laws regarding fleeing from the police, comparing it to other dangerous actions.
“We do need stronger laws when it comes to fleeing from the police,” Satterwhite stated. “We need our legislators and elected officials to revisit this and raise the penalties for this, because it is so dangerous. It is no different than firing a gun into a crowd or anything else.”
The call for stricter penalties comes on the heels of recent changes in police pursuit procedures implemented a few months ago, prompted after a Houston police sergeant’s 75-year-old mother, Gloria Collins, was killed by a fleeing vehicle in September.
Under the new policies, Houston police are prohibited from pursuing a vehicle when potential charges are limited to Class C offenses, traffic-related offenses or nonviolent misdemeanor offenses.
Police Chief Troy Finner, without delving into specifics, mentioned that officers will receive training on new tactics to expedite the resolution of pursuits.
While high-speed chases have decreased by nearly 40% since the implementation of the new policies, a Houston Chronicle investigation revealed that over 1,300 police pursuits have been reported this year alone, marking a 26% increase from the previous year. The investigation also uncovered that more than 740 individuals have been injured and 27 have died in over 6,000 police pursuits in Houston over the past five years.
The suspect apprehended in the high-speed pursuit could face a felony murder charge, according to Satterwhite. Both the Houston police and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office are conducting separate investigations into the crash.