Mo. officer joined pursuit that ended in crash

By Jeremy Kohler
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Copyright 2006 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.

A vehicle fleeing a Charlack police officer raced across north St. Louis County early Tuesday, narrowly missing a police officer from Uplands Park who was trying to keep motorists out of the pursuit's path, officials said.

The Uplands Park officer then joined the pursuit into St. Louis, where the Chrysler Sebring crashed and burst into flames about 1:30 a.m. near Goodfellow Boulevard and Etzel Avenue.

Two men in the Sebring escaped on foot. The Uplands Park officer hurt his knee while running after them, his chief, Herbert Jackson, said. No one else was injured.

The entire episode upset Jackson, who leads a police force established in December to patrol this postage stamp-sized city of 460 residents.

Jackson derided the pursuit as unnecessary and dangerous. He said his own officer should not have involved himself -- even after nearly being struck -- because there was little justification for it in the first place.

"As far as I'm concerned, (Charlack) initiated it," Jackson said. "Let them be responsible."

The Charlack officer was suspicious the car was stolen because it had Michigan plates and did not stop when he attempted to pull it over on Interstate 170, said Charlack police Chief John Palme.

The pursuit went north on 170, east on I-70, south on North Hanley Road and east on Natural Bridge Road, through six or more cities before entering St. Louis, he said. Little traffic was on the local roads during the pursuit, he said.

Palme said he is investigating whether the pursuit was justified. He said his department, like most, permits high-speed chases only when someone in the car is suspected of a dangerous felony.

He said the Michigan plate was later found not to match the Sebring, but that the car had not been reported stolen. He said the steering column showed signs of tampering.

An organization of St. Louis-area police chiefs recommended last month that all the region's departments adopt a national standard to provide consistency in police pursuits.

The St. Louis Area Police Chiefs Association said it had no authority to enforce the recommendation. The association looked into the issue after public outcry over a series of high-speed pursuits, some of which ended in crashes and deaths of bystanders. 

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