CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) – Catching the “bad guy” isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when a chase turns into a dangerous pursuit.
Lowcountry authorities say there are a number of reasons officers or deputies might pursue them, but the suspect almost always faces the same charge: failure to stop for a blue light.
These chases can escalate quickly and can be dangerous and potentially deadly during a busy time of the day.
“Before the persecution, there were never any reports [the driver] was involved in accidents or involved with other vehicles,” says Candy Priano, describing the events that led to her daughter’s death in 2007.
Priano says it wasn’t until a law enforcement pursuit began that the situation became deadly.
“Within two minutes of the chase, you had destroyed my family, my daughter died on a dirty sidewalk,” says Priano. It was the night of her daughter Kristie’s basketball game. She was a sophomore in high school.
Based on this tragedy, Priano founded the non-profit organization PursuitSAFETY, which works to ensure safer prosecutions and law enforcement responses.
While the crash that killed Priano’s daughter happened in California, deadly car chases are no stranger to the Lowcountry.
In June 2022, Mary Alice and Shamricka Dent of Goose Creek died in an accident near Charleston International Airport when investigators said a 12-year-old driving their mother’s car hit the Dent sisters, killing them.
“This is an incredibly heartbreaking issue,” said Trevor Fischbach, CEO of StarChase, a technology designed to end these dangerous car chases. “Many innocent lives are lost as a result of these types of events. Some reports speak of more than 50,000 injuries per year and more than 2,000 deaths.”
In data requested by agencies for 2019-2021, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office identified 452 prosecutions, 144 of which involved some type of harm. The sheriff’s office made no distinction between injuries to bystanders, suspects, proxies, or damage to property.
The Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office says 67 prosecutions took place during the same three-year period. They could not specify how many were involved or ended in accidents or injuries.
The Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office was able to provide the most accurate information. In 2019, the agency reported 68 pursuits, 24 accidents and seven injuries to bystanders. 2020 shows a jump to 89 chases and 43 accidents with nine injured. Three suspects were killed in these chases. In 2021, BCSO reports 73 accidents, 27 collisions and five injuries. Some of the injuries and fatalities are suspects, stand-ins, or third parties.
However, most agencies provided data showing how many chases the sheriff’s deputies stopped due to safety concerns. Authorities say identifying risk factors in each situation is a big part of their prosecution policy.
StarChase tries to stop these chases and accidents entirely.
“This is where this technology comes in,” says Fischbach. “It allows the officer to tag a vehicle remotely. At their discretion, once tagged, that suspect’s vehicle will be tracked every few seconds.”
StarChase works in all jurisdictions, but only if every county uses the technology. There are currently no sheriff’s offices or police departments using the technology in the Lowcountry.
DCSO and CCSO said they heard about StarChase. BCSO said they hadn’t, but officials there said they were interested in how it works — the idea of getting one step ahead of a suspect.
“[In police chases]They’re behind someone, so with this technology, we can really put law enforcement ahead of the people and bring the issue to the fore,” says Fischbach.
There are two ways StarChase technology works: one is a point-and-shoot pistol that fires a tag at a vehicle. The tag allows officers to track a vehicle through StarChase.
The other is the original design released to law enforcement in 2014, mounted directly to the patrol car. From inside the vehicle, authorities can target and activate the technology by placing a cylindrical GPS tracker on suspicious vehicles. This can be during a chase or a standstill traffic stop.
Priano says technology like this could have helped prevent her daughter’s death.
“One of the things about technology is that it’s another tool for police officers, but it’s not the magic bullet that I don’t believe in,” says Priano.
“This technology is very helpful in avoiding very damaging outcomes and simply rewriting the equation,” says Fischbach. “That’s what this technology is for. It serves to truly rewrite the often tragic equation.”
Both Priano and Frishbach say StarChase is part of the solution. Fischbach says it’s just a matter of authorities across the country implementing it into their current policies and tracking practices. Both say the decision on which department to implement the technology could boil down to a question of funding.
When asked about using StarChase, Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Rick Carson said:
There is no doubt that it is a wonderful alternative to high-speed hunting. The information we were able to obtain suggests that the cost of installing and purchasing projectiles would be prohibitive. If we only outfitted our Patrol, Traffic, K-9, and SET teams, the cost would be quite high. It would be nice to work in a district with almost 600 square miles and almost 45 miles from one end of the district to the other and only have a car or two with this kind of technology, but what are the odds of having that unit nearby is? a pursuit? Such an effort is simply not feasible for our agency.
Charleston County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Andrew Knapp said of the technology:
We are aware of the technology but never considered it as a viable option for our agency. The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office has a detailed policy on vehicle chases that all deputies need to be aware of. The policy emphasizes the safe operation of government vehicles during pursuits and allows MPs to terminate a pursuit at any time for any reason. MPs must continually assess whether the risk of prosecution outweighs the risk of not making an arrest immediately. Of 192 prosecutions in 2021, 60 were terminated by a prosecuting deputy or supervisor. After a persecution has ended, the MPs can use investigative tools to try to identify those involved and, if necessary, pursue them further. In addition, each tracking is retrospectively reviewed to ensure compliance and identify areas for improvement. Each deputy also undergoes annual block training on the use of emergency vehicles.
We haven’t heard from the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office.
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