Crime & Courts

Cornelius chief defends officers after men fleeing police die

Residents examine the scene of a fiery crash following a short police pursuit of the vehicle which killed two in Cornelius around 1:30 am Sunday morning, on Jetton Rd. near its intersection with Meta Road. A tree was knocked down at the scene of the crash.
Residents examine the scene of a fiery crash following a short police pursuit of the vehicle which killed two in Cornelius around 1:30 am Sunday morning, on Jetton Rd. near its intersection with Meta Road. A tree was knocked down at the scene of the crash. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

The Cornelius police chief late Tuesday defended his officers following the deaths of two men who crashed over the weekend after a brief police chase. He said officers followed department protocol for police pursuits.

Just after 1 a.m. Sunday, police tried to stop Andrew Krolikowski, 24, for speeding at Bethel Church and Jetton roads. Then Krolikowski, with Jason Monroe, 24, in tow, fled instead and nearly hit another police cruiser. Two police cars chased the men for 42 seconds until both police cars gave up on the pursuit and turned off their emergency equipment, as required by the Cornelius Police Department for officers who are not pursuing suspects farther.

Police Chief Bence Hoyle said the investigation into the incident is ongoing, but the information he has seen leads him to believe his officers were following protocol.

“Our policy is that officers must act reasonably when in a pursuit situation and based on what I see, they did. In fact this was not much of a pursuit,” Hoyle said in email to the Observer. “The suspect pulled away so fast and the officers terminated it very quickly; there was never any close-quarters pursuing at all.”

A police department news release said officers lost sight of the vehicle then found it moments later crashed into a tree near the intersection of Meta and Jetton roads.

Hoyle said the chase was not a drawn-out scene as people may envision. “It is clear that once the suspect accelerated to the speeds he did the officers immediately pulled off, and that will likely be considered ‘reasonable’ under our policy.”

Wrecks from police chases are fairly common, but deaths aren’t. PursuitSAFETY, a national watchdog group based in California, tracks police chases and accidents that come from them, using police and media reports. According to its data, there were at least 85 incidents involving someone fleeing law enforcement in 2014 in the Carolinas. At least four people were killed during or following those chases.

Most of the wrecks ended with no one hurt, but a few end in fatalities – including one in Charlotte in October 2014 when Jashavius Williams was killed fleeing Cabarrus County sheriff’s deputies.

Experts say wrecks in chases are frequent for a simple reason: Suspects aren’t focused on the road. Geoffrey Alpert, a professor at the University of South Carolina who specializes in police pursuits, said people fleeing police aren’t looking at the road, but are instead looking frequently in the rear-view mirror.

“Their eyes are glued to the... mirrors,” he said. “They outrace their own ability and their own cars.”

Alpert said once suspects start to flee, they’re unlikely to stop. He added that once police stop chasing someone, that person usually slows down and the influence the police exert on the driving diminishes, usually within minutes or even seconds depending on the road.

What influence Cornelius police had on Krolikowski and Monroe is unclear.

The Cornelius Police Department declined to release how many seconds elapsed between the end of the chase and when officers discovered the wreck, until the department finishes its investigation of the incident. The department also declined to release annual reports on police chases, saying that the reports are an analytical tool and not a public record.

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