Law enforcement weighs in on Washington County pursuits

Discuss safety protocol, policies

MARIETTA — In less than a week, two high-speed chases have led local law enforcement through county roads and city streets.

The pursuits that begin when a driver failed to pull over for an officer cause concern among many area residents, who worry about pedestrians and other drivers on the road. Whether to terminate a chase if it’s become too dangerous or continue it in order to pursue someone breaking the law doesn’t follow an exact protocol. It’s left to the discretion of officers, said local law enforcement officials.

“What we’re doing is reactionary,” explained Marietta Police Chief Rodney Hupp. “A lot of jurisdictions have eliminated pursuits but I don’t agree with that because it can backfire, so instead we train quite a bit around considerations in a pursuit.”

Marietta Police Capt. Aaron Nedeff said any officer responding to a pursuit can make the judgment call in the city to terminate the chase.

“That decision is final, it’s the officer who is seeing all the factors from road conditions to the speeds being reached and how erratically the driver is behaving,” he said. “Our most recent one was actually about to be called off because he had lost sight of the vehicle.”

But for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Parkersburg Police, that call is made by the supervisory officer in charge of the shift.

On April 14 a chase began in downtown Parkersburg after the reportedly intoxicated driver was driving the wrong way on a one-way street. That pursuit ended in a cul-de-sac in a residential area of Beverly.

Then on Thursday, another chase led local law enforcement from South Third Street in Marietta to the northwestern end of the city on Gilman Avenue after a patrolman recognized a car that had been reported stolen earlier that morning.

These are only the most recent pursuits in which local officials have had to make the judgment call, weighing in safety of all involved, road conditions, weather, time of day and other factors.

Hupp noted three chases in less than a month, with another two reaching high speeds last year on the books in Marietta. Parkersburg Police Chief Joseph Martin noted a significant uptick from six in 2016 to 27 pursuits in 2017 in Parkersburg.

“Pursuits are always a topic of debate, should we chase or not,” said Martin. “But my opinion is if we don’t chase this person and they go and crash into somebody or worse and we didn’t try to stop them then what they did after is, in part, on us, too.”

The April 14 pursuit ended in the arrest of Adam Eugene Dick, 33, of 1503 Beaver St., Parkersburg, and Jonathan Ray Sindledecker, 37, 811 15th St., Parkersburg, both charged with a felony as fugitives from justice.

A Beverly witness who lives near where the chase ended said he wished officers could have stopped it sooner before the chase went into a residential area.

“My biggest concern last Saturday was they had miles of (Ohio) 339 to stop those guys going through the rural countryside but they couldn’t stop him until three doors down from my house,” said Allen Ellis. “I don’t know what the circumstances were but it is disturbing watching cops with drawn guns from my front porch. Maybe they could have barricaded the bridge or popped the tires or something.”

Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks said Friday that stop sticks, the spikes previously used to pop the tires of runaway drivers, are no longer used by his department.

“We stopped using them because of the number of incidents where officers have become seriously injured across the nation (while putting the spikes on the roadway),” he said. “It’s really considered on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes it’s unknown why they’re running.”

He said other measures are taken to either box in the vehicle, wait out the driver or track down the vehicle later.

“We do not want you or others to try and stop them,” he said, noting older methods of vehicular barricades.

The Thursday pursuit of the stolen vehicle had sirens blaring through the downtown district of Marietta.

“It was scary when that kid flew down Fourth Street yesterday morning,” said Franci Bolden, who works at Marietta College. “If there had been a college student crossing the road, they probably would have been hit. My heart was racing. (It was) frightening.”

Local lawyer Beau Cross, of Marietta, said he believes law enforcement shouldn’t always pursue.

“Officers should not engage in a high-speed chase at all costs. The suspect’s vehicle needs to be taken into consideration (car versus motorcycle) as well as road conditions, location, and so on,” he said. “Public safety is of the utmost importance; if chasing a suspect is deemed unsafe by law enforcement, then they should cease and desist chasing and pursue alternative methods.”

That pursuit ended after the two teens that allegedly stole the car crashed and took off on foot.

“When someone is fleeing in a stolen car there’s a higher potential for them to be armed,” said Hupp. “So while there are factors like weather, traffic conditions, the patrol officer’s own capabilities, road conditions and capability of equipment, the most important factor is the seriousness of the offense. They could be not stopping because they don’t have a license or because they just murdered someone and are leaving the scene of the crime. There are opposite ends of the spectrum.”

The driver in Thursday’s case was a 16-year-old boy, according to Nedeff, while the passenger in the car was Christopher William Shackelford, 18, of 206 W. Fifth St., Williamstown. The speeds the pair reached before being apprehended were higher than 70 mph through the city streets.

All the officers said guidelines for other drivers remains the same as when an emergency vehicle approaches with lights and sirens.

“That’s also why we don’t want you driving with headphones in, you need to be able to hear our sirens and slow down to a stop pulled to the right side of the road,” said Martin.

Hupp added that while the chases are of concern for local residents, one way to prevent crimes of opportunity like Thursday’s chase is to simply secure vehicles appropriately.

“It’s not too far off from leaving a loaded gun around, you can’t leave a 4,000-pound object sitting with the keys in or the key fob in and expect a kid to not come along and take it for a joyride,” he said. “We have reason to believe the individuals who stole that car Thursday were on a sort of shopping spree in the alley and the opportunity presented itself.”