Crime & Courts

‘It happened so quick,’ police chief says of deadly crash in downtown Wichita chase

A downtown police chase that ended in a fatal crash was tragic but likely didn’t violate any department policies, Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said Monday.

“Four and a half blocks is an awfully quick time,” Ramsay said. “It’s every officer’s nightmare that they make the wrong decision in these circumstances and something like this happens. We know that our officers are also deeply impacted by this.”

The crash happened about a minute after an officer tried to stop a stolen SUV Sunday afternoon.

The collision, at Douglas and Broadway, killed 70-year-old Maria Wood and her 12-year-old granddaughter, Robinson Middle School student Rosemary McElroy. Wood’s 36-year-old daughter, local musician Jenny Wood, and 65-year-old Alfred Angel of Wichita were hospitalized.

The chase started after a Wichita police officer driving north on Broadway passed a 2001 BMW X5 as it was headed south around 11th Street. Technology on the police patrol car that reads vehicle license plates alerted the officer that the BMW had been reported stolen at 1:51 p.m., Ramsay said. The officer followed it into an apartment complex parking lot at 9th and Broadway and flipped on his emergency lights to stop it two minutes later when the BMW slowed as if to park.

Instead of halting, the SUV pulled back onto Broadway and sped off and the officer chased it.

One minute, 7 seconds later the BMW smashed into the 1998 Toyota Camry that the Woods and Rosemary McElroy were in, forcing the Camry to spin out and crash into Angel’s Chevy HHR.

The officer’s patrol car was 2 1/2 blocks away — at Second and Broadway — when that happened, Ramsay said, adding that the collision was captured on the officer’s body-worn camera. But the public won’t see the footage unless it’s presented as evidence in court, or prosecutors decline to criminally charges in the case, he said.

“I really look forward to showing that video, because it makes a clear picture of what occurred,” he said.

It’s unclear how fast the BMW and the patrol car were going. The speed limit on Broadway in that area is 30 mph. Ramsay said Monday that he “would suspect” the occupants of the stolen BMW knew they were being pursued.

“It’s really one of our nightmares that something like this occurs,” he said.

The stolen SUV’s driver and passenger were both taken to Wesley Medical Center in serious condition. The driver was identified in the crash report as 24-year-old Mia Collins, of Douglass, and the passenger as Christopher English, 38, of Wichita.

Collins, English, Wood and Angel all remain hospitalized, Ramsay said. Wood remains in critical condition. Collins, English and Angel have non-life-threatening injuries, police said.

The police department is seeking criminal charges against both Collins and English, Ramsay said, adding that methamphetamine may have been a factor in their flight from law enforcement.

The two have criminal histories. Collins is on probation in a gun theft case, Sedgwick County District Court records show. English is on parole for fleeing or eluding law enforcement, according to Kansas Department of Corrections prison records.

The department will conduct an internal review of the case after the completion of criminal proceedings.

Ramsay said it didn’t appear to him that the officer involved violated any policies. The Wichita Police Department’s policy on traffic pursuits in available online, under the 11-page Policy 605 Emergency Vehicle Operation.

The policy states that a pursuit should be called off “if visual contact is lost, other than momentarily, or if unfavorable weather, road, traffic or vehicle conditions exist.”

Ramsay said the case meets the criteria for a police pursuit, even though some people in the department disagreed because “it happened so quickly and the vehicle was so far ahead” by the time the officer was on the street.

The Kansas Highway Patrol’s online log classifies the crash as a police pursuit.

“When we talk about making decisions, we have a policy that dictates pursuits and how to handle them,” Ramsay said. “It’s always balancing the need to apprehend the crooks and the risk of injury to the public. In this short of a distance ... it happened so quickly.

“This is also one of the difficulties of being a police officer today, is the scrutiny that our police officers face in these split-second decisions (in) very stressful situations that I know this officer was going through as he was making these decisions, as well as his supervision.”

Contributing: Kaitlyn Alanis and Matt Riedl of The Eagle

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