Teens die in car crash inferno after pursuit
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.
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
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.