01/21/2008

Minn. officer laying spike strips saved by remembering training

The St. Paul Pioneer Press
Related: Tire deflation device safety tips
New Tire deflation devices help put an end to pursuits

WOODBURY, Minn. — Moments after veteran Woodbury police officer Scott Melander rolled out stop sticks along Interstate 494 early Sunday, he took cover on a center median, near a bridge pillar. That action may have saved his life.

Soon, the suspect, who was leading police on a pursuit that began in Mendota Heights, came barreling down the interstate at more than 100 mph, according to the Minnesota State Patrol.

The driver swerved away from the stop sticks and slammed without braking into the back of Melander’s unmarked Chevrolet Tahoe on the shoulder of the road with emergency lights flashing, the State Patrol said. The crash occurred at 2:12 a.m.

The man died at the scene, according to the State Patrol, which is leading the crash investigation. His name was not released.

Both vehicles started burning after the impact, but officers were able to put the fires out, said Woodbury police Sgt. Brett Billmeyer.

Melander learned a valuable lesson from a similar accident nearly three years ago to the day, Billmeyer said. On Jan. 26, 2005, a 19-year-old man died after leading authorities on a high-speed chase and crashing into an unoccupied Woodbury police car at Interstate 494 and Valley Creek Road. A Woodbury police officer who was outside the squad car setting up stop sticks was unharmed.

“(Melander) said he learned a lot from that previous incident,” Billmeyer said. “The officers have been trained to stay away from the squad cars after putting down the stops sticks and to find something that is going to protect you.”

According to the State Patrol, shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday a trooper clocked the man going more than 20 mph over the speed limit in a 1998 Chevrolet Camaro on I-494 in Mendota Heights. Instead of stopping when the trooper pursued him, the man hit the gas and led officers on a chase that reached speeds up to 110 mph and crossed into Ramsey and Washington counties.

Melander heard the pursuit on his radio, pulled his police SUV onto the shoulder of the interstate near Tamarack Road and put down the stop sticks in an attempt to deflate the driver’s car tires, Billmeyer said.

The stop sticks were placed about 25 feet in front of the police SUV, and Billmeyer said he doubts the man was trying to avoid them. He said the sticks are about 2 inches wide and would be hard to see at night, especially while traveling 100 mph.

“We’re not sure if this was intentional or what he was thinking,” Billmeyer said. “It could be one of those things that you may never know why it happened.”

State Patrol Lt. Mark Peterson said Melander did the right thing in taking cover and recalled how Lino Lakes officer Shawn Silvera was killed while trying to put stop sticks on Interstate 35W in September 2005. Silvera, like Melander, was in the center median when the suspect veered and hit him.

“We lost an officer in Lino Lakes who was deploying stop sticks,” Peterson said. “But the intent is to deflate tires in safe and gradual manner and it’s one of many tools to try and bring a pursuit to an end in a safe manner.”

Copyright 2008 St. Paul Pioneer Press

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