Earlier this week, a drunk driver who ran a red light while attempting to evade police killed a 20-year-old prom king from Wisconsin. The incident has friends and family asking questions about why the pursuit took place in such a densely populated area, and it has others looking into the how often these types of pursuits end in tragedy.
The incident at the forefront of the discussion involves the death of Brody Sotona, a budding musician who was killed early Monday morning when he was involved in a crash with a drunk driver. Yia Her, the man driving the vehicle that struck Sotona, had a BAC of .16 at the time of the accident.
While few will argue that Her is directly responsible for Sotona’s death, those who knew Sotona want to know why police decided to pursue Her so aggressively.
“The family would like to know why the Minnesota State Trooper pursued the suspect into a high-speed chase in DOWNTOWN Minneapolis at 1 o’clock in the morning when it is quite clear that they already had the suspect’s license plate and likely the name and address,” Sotona’s family said in a statement. “If they would not have pushed him, our son and brother would still be alive today.”
The State Patrol trooper who pursued Her first stopped the suspect near the 11th Street S. on suspicion of speeding and driving under the influence. Her stopped on the side of the road, but as the trooper approached the car, he sped off. The trooper caught up to Her and twice tried to force him to pull over, but he was unsuccessful. A few blocks after the second attempt, Her ran that red light at SE. 4th Street and Central Ave. SE. and collided with Sotona’s vehicle.
Sotona’s family believes Brody would still be alive had the officer not pursued Her, but Lt. Eric Roeske said the officer attempted to stop the vehicle because it was putting other motorists at risk.
“Drunk drivers kill over 100 people a year [in Minnesota],” said Lt. Roeske. “Do you just let him go or do you try to stop him?”
Roeske also noted that had Her obeyed the trooper, Sotona would still be alive today.
Paul Edlund, a Minneapolis police misconduct attorney, echoes the Sotona family in his recent blog post on the topic. According to Edlund, the trooper should have employed different tactical measures to capture Her, rather than chasing him through the packed streets of downtown Minneapolis.
Should Police Pursue?
Police officers are faced with difficult decisions on a daily basis, but the trooper’s decision to pursue Her, who clearly had no intention of stopping, opens up a larger debate. At what point should an officer call off a pursuit?
A look at Minnesota statistics provides a clearer outlook on just how successful police are at stopping a suspect safely after they flee. According to the data, out of all the pursuits statewide:
- The suspect is captured 80 percent of the time;
- The suspect gets away 11 percent of the time;
- The officer calls off the pursuit 9 percent of the time because it’s too dangerous to continue to chase the driver; and
- 15 percent of all police pursuits in 2012 led to some sort of unintentional collision or crash.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, fatalities from police-related chases have increased in Minnesota and across the United States over the past 30 years. On average, two people died during police pursuits in Minnesota in the 1980s and 1990s, but that average jumped to 3.6 deaths in the 2000s. In 2011, seven individuals were killed in police-related pursuits.
Related sources: Star-Tribune, My Fox Twin Cities