All posts tagged: Kansas

Deadly chase prompts questions

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Topeka police must analyze methods

A recent car chase in Topeka that took the life of an innocent woman must be analyzed.

The chase, which was conducted at relatively low speeds, concluded with a horrific crash, which killed a passenger of another vehicle.

What started as an attempt to pull over the driver of a vehicle found to have a faulty taillight prompted an 11-minute chase, mostly through North Topeka, before the driver crossed the Kansas River and eventually caused a three-vehicle crash at S.W. 6th and Topeka Boulevard.

The end result of this pursuit, which began about 5 a.m. Feb. 8, contributed to the death of a passenger in another vehicle. The unintended outcome was devastating.

The charges now faced by Sherman N. Jenkins, including first-degree murder, are appropriate.

The reckless actions that led to the death of Mia Holden are reprehensible.

Holden, 34, was the single mother of five young children. They moved to Topeka from Pennsylvania, according to a GoFundMe account arranged to defray the cost of funeral and travel expenses. According to that account, Holden was en route to an outpatient surgical procedure at the time of the crash. Donations can be made through the GoFundMe account, which also lists other methods to contribute to Holden’s family.

In light of this tragedy, the Topeka Police Department must diligently review the chase and determine if additional measures could have been taken to protect the innocent.

The most important factor prompting any chase is the nature of the crime. In this instance, the tags on the vehicle in question did not come back clean, which made the chase of the stolen truck justifiable.

In addition, two tire deflation devices placed at the south end of the Kansas Avenue bridge, which Jenkins crossed during the chase, failed to stop or slow his path.

Still, what could have been done differently? Could Jenkins have been stopped before traveling into a busier area downtown? These are questions Topeka police are no doubt asking after watching the chase end so disastrously.

The incident also should prompt discussion into the use of drones, which could track drivers who flee police stops and possibly enable law enforcement to curtail chases that endanger lives.

Any discussion to that effect is worthwhile after last week’s senseless tragedy.


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Man charged with murder after stolen vehicle, police chase caused deadly crash

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A man who police say stole a truck, sparked a police chase and caused a crash that killed a Topeka woman was charged Monday with first-degree murder.

Sherman N. Jenkins, 62, of Jefferson County, appeared before Judge William Ossmann in the morning via video feed from the jail. Jenkins, who was wearing a light blue jail jumpsuit, barely spoke.

Jenkins also is charged with fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, two counts of aggravated battery, driving with a revoked license, misdemeanor theft and driving with a bad taillight.

Ossmann set Jenkins’ bond at $1 million cash or surety. An attorney from the Northeast Kansas Conflict Office will represent him.

Jenkins was driving a stolen red pickup truck when he led police on an 11-minute, “low-speed” chase early Thursday morning that ended in the crash. He was booked into the Shawnee County Jail on Friday after being released from a local hospital.

Mia Holden, 34, died after being injured in the three-vehicle crash at S.W. 6th and Topeka Boulevard.

Topeka Police Lt. Colleen Stuart said after the crash that Jenkins may have avoided at least one of two tire deflation devices — commonly referred to as “stop sticks” — at the south end of the Kansas Avenue Bridge, and the truck he was driving was gaining speed as it entered the intersection where the crash happened.

Holden was a passenger in a gold-colored car that Jenkins struck with the stolen truck, according to police. The passenger’s side of the heavily damaged car was caved in. The car came to rest facing northeast on the south side of the intersection. The red truck, which was damaged on its front, ended up facing the opposite direction.

Police said the pursuit that led up to the crash started at 5 a.m. after officers attempted to stop a vehicle for having no taillight at St. John and N. Kansas Avenue.

Jenkins refused to pull over, according to police, initiating a pursuit that police said “weaved around” North Topeka before heading south over the Kansas Avenue Bridge. Speeds were reported at about 18 mph before the truck reduced its speed to 5 mph on the bridge.

The pursuit continued south on S. Kansas Avenue from the south end of the Kansas Avenue Bridge. The truck then turned west on S.W. 3rd Street, went south down an alley, then turned west on S.W. 4th, going a few blocks to S.W. Topeka Boulevard.

The truck then turned left, or south, onto Topeka Boulevard, where it began to speed up.

The truck, traveling south on Topeka Boulevard, then entered the intersection at S.W. 6th, where it crashed into the car in which Holden was a passenger.

A smaller white car that also was hit by the truck had rear-end damage and came to rest facing northwest in a parking area along the north side of 6th, just west of Topeka Boulevard.

Patients from all three vehicles were taken by American Medical Response ambulance to a local hospital.

The Topeka Capital-Journal was the only media outlet present at Jenkins’ appearance on Monday.

Jenkins has a criminal history. According to Shawnee County court records, last year Jenkins pleaded guilty to making a felony criminal threat. Additionally, in a case from 2012, he pleaded guilty to the felony burglary of Meadows Elementary School, 201 S.W. Clay. When officers responded, a police K-9 located Jenkins and bit him ( Jenkins also pleaded guilty in a 2012 domestic battery case.


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Jon speaks on NPR’s All Things Considered

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Listen to the story HERE.

In Hot Pursuit of Public Safety, Police Consider Fewer Car Chases

Police officers have to make complicated, split-second decisions every day — and whether or not to chase a fleeing suspect is no exception. And they often have to make this decision while driving a car at very high speeds.

Kansas City area police chief Steve Beamer says they don’t make it lightly. “We have to continually balance the need to apprehend that individual who chooses to flee against the safety of the public that may be at risk because of the pursuit,” Beamer says.

The risk is that the pursuit will cause a crash, killing police and innocent bystanders. Based on data from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Kansas Department of Transportation and an analysis of news articles from the last 10 years, there have been at least 706 pursuit crashes that have killed at least 23 people in the Kansas City area in the last 10 years. Hundreds more were injured, including 11 police officers. Police consultant Chuck Drago says nationally between 300 and 400 people are killed each year because of pursuits.

“As far as we can tell, it’s pretty much been stable for many, many, many years, and the numbers are sometimes difficult to pin down,” Drago says. It’s difficult because the reporting is voluntary.

Aaron Ambrose is a former Kansas City area police chief who says most of the time, pursuits just aren’t worth it. But there are exceptions.

“Now, if somebody’s grabbed a little kid and they’re holding them hostage — some guy went into the neighborhood and snatched up a kid and they’re driving around — I say we follow them until the wheels fall off. You’re never going to let that vehicle out of your sight regardless,” Ambrose says.

Technology could help cut down on the number of pursuits. Police already use helicopters and may use drones in the future. There’s also StarChase, a system that shoots a GPS-tracking dart from the front of a police car onto a fleeing vehicle.

Police agencies also have policies in place spelling out who officers are allowed to chase and how fast they can drive. But in Kansas City there are two states, six counties and dozens of municipalities — and all have differing policies. Some allow chases for a minor traffic violations. Others only allow pursuits of violent felons.

Jonathan Farris, former head of the group PursuitSAFETY, says there need to be more consistent policies. Even though he lost his son in a pursuit crash near Boston eight years ago, he thinks banning all pursuits is not realistic.

“I think it’s a reduction in police pursuits, not an elimination of police pursuits, and that reduction, again, the simplest way to do that is to say the only thing that is important enough to put other citizens in danger is to pursue violent felons only,” he says.

Of course, an officer might not yet know who’s running away, and that’s why activists like Farris want policy reform that will make police pursuits both more efficient and safer for everyone in in their paths.

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