Teens die in car crash in­ferno af­ter pur­suit

The Press - - Front Page - Sam Sher­wood sam.sher­[email protected]

The mother of two young boys killed along­side their friend af­ter the flee­ing car they were in ex­ploded says she’s in ‘‘se­vere shock’’.

The Press un­der­stands the boys are 16-year-old Glen Mcal­lis­ter, who was be­lieved to be driv­ing the car, and 13-year-olds Craig Mcal­lis­ter and Brook­lyn Tay­lor.

Broth­ers Glen and Craig and their friend, Brook­lyn, died af­ter the stolen car they were in hit po­lice spikes at speed, crashed and ex­ploded in a ‘‘huge ball of fire’’ on Christchurch’s Blen­heim Rd on Sun­day night.

Two of­fi­cers who laid the spikes tried to save the boys, suf­fer­ing smoke in­hala­tion in the process, but it was too late.

Glen and Craig’s mother, Juanita Rose, told The Press she was in ‘‘se­vere shock’’ af­ter los­ing her two sons, who she called her ‘‘ba­bies, my life’’.

Their sis­ter posted a trib­ute to her ‘‘hand­some broth­ers’’ on Face­book.

‘‘Los­ing one of you is hard enough, but both of you go­ing has de­stroyed me. Thir­teen and 16 is way too young to be gone.

‘‘Can’t be­lieve I’ll never get to see you grow into the men you were sup­posed to be. I love you both end­lessly,’’ she wrote.

Tay­lor’s older sis­ter, TeAri Tay­lor, said her younger brother’s life be­gan to un­ravel when their fa­ther died nine years ago.

‘‘He was a bro­ken child. They were at­tached at the hip. Dad was his best mate.’’

Brook­lyn was in the care of Oranga Ta­mariki at the time of his death.

TeAri Tay­lor spoke with him in April last year, af­ter the death of their grand­mother, about mov­ing up to Welling­ton to live with her.

‘‘At the time he wasn’t go­ing through a very good sit­u­a­tion, wrong peo­ple, wrong crowd – just ba­si­cally couldn’t get out of the sit­u­a­tion that he was in,’’ she said.

‘‘I told his case­worker some­thing’s got to change be­cause if you don’t send him to me we’re go­ing to be bury­ing my brother. He needs to get out of Christchurch and have a whole new be­gin­ning.’’

A fam­ily group con­fer­ence was held in Septem­ber to de­ter­mine what was best for him, with the de­ci­sion made for him to stay in Christchurch with other sib­lings.

Tay­lor said she felt sick when she got a call yes­ter­day morn­ing to say her brother had died. ‘‘Every­body makes mis­takes, but that’s your life. They were only 13 and 16 – it’s ab­so­lutely dis­gust­ing. They had so much to live for.

‘‘As much as I’m bro­ken that we have to bury my baby brother, it wasn’t an easy de­ci­sion or sit­u­a­tion to deal with for those po­lice to have to deal with.’’

It is un­der­stood the three boys had reg­u­larly stolen cars through­out the city in re­cent months. The Mazda Fa­milia in­volved in the crash was first seen speed­ing in cen­tral Christchurch at 11.13pm on Sun­day, reach­ing speeds in ex­cess of 130kmh and run­ning red lights on Moor­house Ave. It had been stolen ear­lier that night.

Po­lice started chas­ing the car, but aban­doned the pur­suit af­ter just over a minute be­cause of the way it was be­ing driven, Su­per­in­ten­dent John Price said.

Mean­while, of­fi­cers laid spikes a few kilo­me­tres away on Blen­heim Rd to try and stop the car.

The car hit the spikes, lost con­trol and crashed into a tree, rup­tur­ing the fuel tank and ex­plod­ing in flames. The road was wet at the time of the crash, leav­ing no skid marks.

‘‘There has been a ball of fire, we know this from CCTV footage,’’ Price said. Both of­fi­cers went di­rectly to the car and ‘‘did their very best’’ to get the teens out, but were un­able to.

The of­fi­cers, who were at home re­cu­per­at­ing from smoke in­hala­tion, were ‘‘ab­so­lutely dev­as­tated’’ by the deaths, Price said.

A Blen­heim Rd res­i­dent, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity, de­scribed the car fire as an ‘‘in­ferno’’. The most ‘‘haunt­ing’’ thing was the sound of the car horn, which started al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter the crash.

‘‘It didn’t go off. It just kept go­ing,’’ he said.

Blen­heim Rd res­i­dent Ruth Maxwell said po­lice seemed to be ‘‘as­ton­ished’’ by the crash.

‘‘When I came out, the po­lice were stand­ing there and I don’t think they re­alised what to do.

‘‘They were as as­ton­ished by what hap­pened as any­one else.’’

Maxwell was at home when she heard ‘‘a loud whoosh’’.

‘‘You couldn’t re­ally see much ex­cept for a huge ball of fire.’’

‘‘It’s ab­so­lutely dis­gust­ing. They had so much to live for.’’ Griev­ing sis­ter

ANAL­Y­SIS: In the wake of the lat­est deaths from a crash fol­low­ing a po­lice pur­suit, one com­ment stood out. It came from Can­ter­bury po­lice dis­trict com­man­der Su­per­in­ten­dent John Price, as he ad­dressed the me­dia af­ter the tragedy: ‘‘Po­lice al­ways face a dif­fi­cult bal­ance in pro­tect­ing the pub­lic from dan­ger­ous driv­ing be­hav­iour and po­ten­tially caus­ing the of­fend­ing driv­ers to take greater risks.’’

Dif­fi­cult bal­ance. It is easy to ar­gue that three teenagers would not have been killed had po­lice not given chase to the stolen car they were driv­ing, or laid road spikes to im­mo­bilise it, which af­ter trav­el­ling over the car lost con­trol, hit a tree and burst into flames. It is equally easy to say the driver should not have been driv­ing through cen­tral Christchurch streets in ex­cess of 130kmh, run­ning red lights and en­dan­ger­ing the pub­lic.

Po­lice, the me­dia, in­de­pen­dent watch­dogs and ju­di­ciary have been grap­pling with how best to strike this bal­ance for some time. The po­lice’s pur­suit pol­icy has been re­viewed four times al­ready since 2000 and a fifth re­view is due next month. Sev­eral of these re­ports were prompted by pub­lic con­cern over need­less deaths. All have aimed to im­prove pub­lic safety.

Sadly, they haven’t worked. The num­ber of peo­ple killed dur­ing or af­ter po­lice chases rose ev­ery year be­tween 2014 and 2017 and the is­sue was a mat­ter for con­cern for some time be­fore this. A 2009 In­de­pen­dent Po­lice Con­duct Author­ity re­view by Jus­tice Low­ell God­dard found that even then, about one in four recorded pur­suits ended in a crash, about one in 50 ended in se­ri­ous in­jury and about one in 500 in death. Flee­ing driv­ers tended to be young men, few of whom had com­mit­ted se­ri­ous crimes.

The judge noted ex­ist­ing po­lice pol­icy at the time – ‘‘If there is no need to im­me­di­ately ap­pre­hend the driver or the risks are too great, a pur­suit is not to be ini­ti­ated’’ – as still not go­ing far enough. ‘‘Im­me­di­ate need to ap­pre­hend’’ was sub­jec­tive. Open to po­lice of­fi­cers who had a rush of blood to the head when some­one dis­obeyed their author­ity, or vary­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tions of what type of of­fender needed to be caught straight away. Jus­tice God­dard rec­om­mended the risk to the pub­lic of not stop­ping a flee­ing driver be the main con­sid­er­a­tion in de­cid­ing to start or con­tinue a pur­suit:

‘‘The Author­ity ques­tions the value of pur­suits that be­gin over driv­ing of­fences such as speed­ing, care­less driv­ing, or sus­pected drink driv­ing with­out ob­serv­able, im­me­di­ate threat to pub­lic safety.’’

Clearly, there are no easy an­swers for how to deal with mo­torists who refuse to stop for po­lice and drive reck­lessly to avoid cap­ture, but for pur­suit deaths to con­tinue ris­ing in the face of nu­mer­ous re­views, some­thing isn’t trans­lat­ing from the­ory to prac­tice. Even as the changes from the God­dard re­view were due to be im­ple­mented in 2010, there were con­cerns po­lice hadn’t fol­lowed its rec­om­men­da­tions closely enough.

Then act­ing na­tional road polic­ing man­ager In­spec­tor Rob Mor­gan re­jected the claims, list­ing a raft of changes, in­clud­ing more aban­don­ment cri­te­ria, bet­ter ra­dio pro­ce­dures, safety warn­ings and lim­it­ing the num­ber of po­lice cars in­volved in a chase to two. ‘‘Our over-rid­ing prin­ci­ple is that staff and pub­lic safety takes prece­dence over the im­me­di­ate ap­pre­hen­sion of the of­fender,’’ he said.

There are other op­tions. A num­ber of United States cities and coun­ties have adopted a ‘‘vi­o­lent of­fend­ers only’’ pol­icy to pur­suits, dras­ti­cally re­duc­ing the num­ber of chases (about 350 down to 51 in the first year in Mi­ami-Dade county) with­out any in­crease in crime. Jus­tice God­dard noted that road spikes, of­ten used to stop a flee­ing ve­hi­cle af­ter a pur­suit was called off, risked ‘‘plac­ing [po­lice] and oth­ers in se­ri­ous danger’’: ‘‘In some pur­suits flee­ing driv­ers have crashed af­ter swerv­ing to avoid road spikes.’’

In 2010, In­spec­tor Mor­gan told The Press po­lice were al­ready call­ing off pur­suits for mi­nor of­fences where the driver’s iden­tity was known, but were re­luc­tant to re­strict pur­suit cri­te­ria: ‘‘We’re not go­ing to hand over the roads to peo­ple break­ing the law. This is re­ally risky be­hav­iour. They are in to­tal con­trol of the sit­u­a­tion, all they have to do is stop.’’

The lat­est re­view of pur­suit pol­icy was due at the end of last year, but has been de­layed un­til next month. In­ter­est in its con­tents will be height­ened af­ter the re­cent spate of pur­suit deaths, in­clud­ing six in Christchurch in the last two months, that will surely erode the pub­lic’s tol­er­ance for the sta­tus quo. Opt­ing not to chase any­one sets a trou­bling prece­dent, but lim­it­ing the num­ber of sit­u­a­tions where a pur­suit could end badly seems like a re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tion.

The num­ber of peo­ple killed dur­ing or af­ter po­lice chases rose ev­ery year be­tween 2014 and 2017 and the is­sue was a mat­ter for con­cern some time be­fore this.

PO­LICE

Brook­lyn Tay­lor Craig Mcal­lis­ter The charred re­mains of the flee­ing car, which ex­ploded af­ter crash­ing in Christchurch, killing the three teenage boys in­side. The ve­hi­cle crashed into a tree af­ter hit­ting road spikes placed by po­lice af­ter a pur­suit was aban­doned. Glen Mcal­lis­ter

DAVID WALKER/ STUFF

Po­lice Su­per­in­ten­dent John Price briefs the me­dia yes­ter­day af­ter­noon about the lat­est fa­tal flee­ing driver in­ci­dent. Two teenage broth­ers and their friend had died in the fiery Christchurch crash overnight.

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