Tragedy heightened by slow release of chase details

Everyone knows a high-speed police chase when they see one. Sirens blare. Lights flash. There is plenty of speed. Motorists are supposed to pull over when emergency vehicles come up behind them. And police are to put public safety ahead of the chase.

When all of those circumstances don’t happen, there can be deadly consequences.

According to the state police Bureau of Research and Development, there were 14 traffic fatalities from police chases in 2012, the last year records are available. In 13 of those cases, a violator of the law died. In one case, the person who died was not involved in the chase.

Williamsport police had the tragic, unintended outcome 10 days ago, when an uninvolved motorist died in a traffic accident involving a city police car driven by a patrolman responding to assist in a high-speed chase. The crash also triggered a house fire.

The area where the crash occurred, Third Street near Railway Street in the city’s East End, doesn’t allow much room for motorists to pull over.

The state vehicle code says the driver of an emergency vehicle has “the duty to drive with due regard to the safety of all persons.”

State police are still investigating the crash and, no matter the outcome, it’s a tragedy.

City police and officials have been hesitant to get into details of the accident and would not release the department’s policy on high-speed chases. That’s unfortunate. We obtained state Vehicle Code information on high-speed chases, but it would have been better for city police to offer the information to the Sun-Gazette when asked. Sitting on such details gives the impression of cover-up, whether there is one or not.

The correct course would have involved an apology from police, a rundown of what police and motorists are supposed to do during an ongoing chase and a fervent promise of a complete investigation.

Our heart goes out to the family of the victim. Our hope is that police will be rededicated to the philosophy of safety first during the next chase. And full disclosure of the details sooner rather than later if another like tragedy occurs should definitely be on the “to do” list.