Brothers, friend die in fierce car inferno
Two young brothers and their friend are dead after the stolen car they were in hit police spikes at speed, crashed and exploded in a ‘‘huge ball of fire’’.
Two officers who laid the spikes tried to save the boys, suffering smoke inhalation in the process, but it was too late.
‘‘Sadly this was not possible due to the intense heat and fire,’’ Canterbury district commander Superintendent John Price said.
The stolen Mazda Familia 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 is understood the driver of the car was 16, while his brother and the other passenger were 13.
Police started chasing the car but abandoned the pursuit after just over a minute because of the way it was being driven, Price said. Meanwhile, officers laid spikes a few kilometres away in Blenheim Rd to try to stop the car. The car hit the spikes, lost control and crashed into a tree, rupturing the fuel tank and exploding in flames.
‘‘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.
The officers, who were at home recuperating from smoke inhalation, were ‘‘absolutely devastated’’ by the deaths, Price said.
A disaster victim identification team would identify the three dead teens but police had a ‘‘fair idea’’ who they were from items in the car, which was stolen the same night as the crash.
Police were in contact with their families, Price said.
Police Association president Chris Cahill said the ‘‘tragic consequences’’ of laying the road spikes could not have been anticipated. He said spikes caused tyres to deflate and the car to stop further down the road, rather than the tyres blowing out.
‘‘What’s clear is the pursuit had been called off several minutes beforehand and the car continued to travel at speed.
‘‘It wasn’t being caused by police officers pursuing but clearly by those people choosing to drive at those dangerous speeds.’’
The number of people killed during police pursuits increased every year between 2014 and 2017.
Police and the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) are reviewing their fleeing driver policy on a nationwide level.
The findings were initially expected to be released late last year but, ‘‘because of the complexity of the issues and the need for careful analysis’’, the report is now expected to be finalised in February.
Cahill said he was interested to see the outcome of the review.
‘‘This incident highlights no one incident is the same, each incident has their own sets of circumstances.
‘‘If police did nothing, that vehicle was going to continue to travel at speed and could have had serious impacts for innocent members of the public.’’
Human rights barrister Deborah Manning said New Zealand was out of step with international practice around police pursuits.
‘‘We should not be pursuing, or chasing, drivers for speeding.
‘‘It puts people into flight mode and young people cannot make good decisions under that pressure,’’ Manning said.
‘‘Speeding does not justify losing three young lives.’’
Price said pursuits like the one in the early hours were extremely testing for police.
‘‘They are fast-moving, unpredictable and high pressure situations that require quick judgments.
‘‘Ultimately, police are here to protect our community.
‘‘Our staff must strike a balance between the responsibility to protect life and the duty to enforce the law.’’
A police investigation into the latest incident was under way, Price said.
IPCA would be advised, which was standard practice, he said.
The charred remains of the fleeing car, which exploded after crashing in Christchurch, killing the three teenage boys inside. The car crashed into a tree after hitting road spikes placed by police after a pursuit was abandoned.