Police officer committed dangerous driving in fatal pursuit: ICPA
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A police officer who drove at speeds of up to 200km/h during a pursuit that led to a crash killing two people committed dangerous and unjustified driving, the police watchdog has ruled.
The police handling of the Auckland chase on October 23 last year - which left two people dead when the car being pursued crashed into a tree - has been faulted in a report released today by the Independent Police Conduct Authority.
The IPCA says the police officer should have faced a criminal investigation - but police say it's now too late to consider charges.
The authority said it was appropriate for the officers to begin the pursuit - but once it became clear the driver was not going to stop they should have abandoned the chase, which lasted 76 seconds.
IPCA chairman Judge Colin Doherty, said: "The speeds at which the officer drove on this occasion were clearly unjustified and constituted dangerous driving. Indeed, it is the Authority's view that rarely, if ever, would driving on a public road at a speed of two and a half times the posted speed limit not constitute dangerous driving."
The authority also found police should have initiated a criminal investigation into the officer's driving.
Passengers Connor Talaimanu, 29, and Sharina Storm Meuli, 25, were both killed in the crash when the VW Golf they were in hit a tree in St Lukes Rd during the police pursuit.
The driver, Prushya Chaichumphon, had fled police at speed with four passengers in the car after being spotted travelling 133km/h in an 80km/h zone at 1.08am.
The officers began following the vehicle in an attempt to catch up to it, before initiating a pursuit by activating their patrol car's lights and sirens.
Chaichumphon continued driving on the motorway, at speeds exceeding 160km/h, before taking the Newton Rd on-ramp. Police briefly caught up Chaichumphon on the overbridge before he exited the Newton off-ramp and sped away.
Chaichumphon then exited the motorway at the St Lukes Rd off-ramp and shortly after lost control of the vehicle, striking a tree.
The pursuing officer drove at speeds reaching 200km/h in an 80km/h area during the pursuit.
Police say the pursuit lasted one minute, 16 seconds.
Talaimanu and Meuli died in hospital a few hours after the crash, while Chaichumphon and the other two passengers were seriously injured.
Police response to today's IPCA findings
Assistant Commissioner Tusha Penny said police accepted the findings the officer's speed was not justified, was excessive, and that the pursuit should have been abandoned.
Police also considered a criminal investigation of the officer involved, but determined the "evidential test was not met for a charge of either dangerous or reckless driving as the evidence was not sufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction in court".
"Nevertheless we know we could have done better and we acknowledge the IPCA's comments regarding the categorisation of this incident and the timing of the legal opinion," Penny said.
The statute of limitations meant a retrospective prosecution of the officer was not an option, she said.
"There is no doubt that police could and should have done things differently that night and in the subsequent process, just as the fleeing driver involved should have made a different choice.
"Our people never want to have an outcome like this, and we must continually learn as we work to keep our communities safe."
Fleeing driver was jailed
Chaichumphon was sentenced to three years imprisonment after facing two charges of reckless driving causing death and two charges of reckless driving causing injury.
At Chaichumphon's sentencing in the Auckland District Court on October 31 family members spoke of the utter devastation that followed.
Prushya Chaichumphon was sentenced in the Auckland District Court to three years jail after a police chase ended with two deaths. Photo / Greg Bowker
Sharina Meuli's mother Belinda O'Connor repeatedly asked Chaichumphon why he had not just pulled over, adding that she had seen the footage and knew he had plenty of chances to do so.
"You were not under the influence of alcohol. You were not under the influence of drugs.
"You knew exactly what you were doing. Why didn't you pull over?"
He would have been aware of the flashing police lights following him, O'Connor said.
"Sharina was not ready to go. This was not my daughter's time," she said.
"To try and explain my pain is impossible. No one should have to lose a child like this. It was so preventable."
Meuli's father Aaron Meuli told the court his daughter "was a star, a shining light," and now that light was gone.
The driver had made wrong decision, after wrong decision, as he fled police and ran through a red light before attempting to overtake on the grass, he said.
"What was the result of all these bad decisions? Death. Totally avoidable death."
It would never be known what exactly had happened during the "death ride" as the three survivors had no recollection of the event, he said.
"But I can assure you that the driver had every opportunity to take the right course of action for all five souls in that car that night."
Chaichumphon took "two of humanity's best souls in just one punch".
Renee Talaimanu told the Auckland District Court there was no way her brother would have been okay with the car travelling at such "dangerous and ridiculous speeds".
He had just been accepted into the New Zealand Police College, she said.
"Connor James Levi Talaimanu, my amazing brother with the big, goofy grin and the silly high-pitched laugh grew up always doing things right.
"He was super intelligent and had a passion for so many different things whether it be sports, Star Wars, computers, video games - he would find something and just make it his own...
"He was my real life encyclopedia."
She told the court she had placed a letter in his pocket at his funeral saying she was sorry she had not been there to protect him.
Talaimanu's mother Vivianne Talaimanu told the court she would miss many Mother's Day cards and birthday cards in the years to come.
"The news of Connor's death almost killed my father," she said.
"This was not an accident and I refuse to acknowledge it as an accident."
Talaimanu's father Andrew Talaimanu told the Auckland District Court there were no words to describe leaving him at the hospital after his death.
"I will never get over this."
He demanded answers from Chaichumphon about what had happened in the car he called a "weapon of death".
- NZ Herald
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