Driver in police chase fatal crash in North Versai… – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The man being pursued by police Thanksgiving Day in North Versailles was going more than 100 mph and driving “crazy” without a license when his car struck a vehicle carrying a man, woman and a toddler, killing them, according to court documents released today.
Demetrius Coleman, 22, of Homewood, who was seriously injured in the crash and is being treated at UPMC Mercy, will be arraigned on a list of charges including three counts each of homicide and homicide by vehicle, several counts of aggravated assault and fleeing and eluding police.
A criminal complaint outlining the charges includes more details about the moments leading up to the fiery crash that Allegheny County police homicide Sgt. Scott Scherer Thursday called “horrific.”
About 2:17 p.m., East McKeesport police Officer Scott Lowden pulled Coleman over in the GetGo parking lot along Route 30 for making an illegal left turn out of Santos Street onto Route 30 eastbound, Allegheny County police Detective Patrick Kinavey wrote in the complaint. Coleman told the officer he’d just come from a relative’s house and that he didn’t have a valid license, and Officer Lowden ran Coleman’s name to find he was wanted for a probation violence for felony drug possession with the intent to deliver, according to the complaint.
Officer Lowden called for backup, and as he and two North Versailles police officers approached Coleman’s car, it sped off down Route 30 eastbound. North Versailles police Officer Norman Locke was heading westbound to help when he saw the car and began following it as it weaved in and out of traffic “several hundred yards ahead,” the detective wrote. At one point near the Sunoco on Route 30, the complaint continued, Coleman’s car crossed over into oncoming traffic, directly toward a police car with its lights and sirens on.
“Officer Locke at one point estimated the vehicle [was] exceeding 100 mph and he was not gaining on the vehicle at all,” the detective wrote. “During the pursuit, Officer Locke slowed at the intersections with traffic signals, but the suspect vehicle continued through without braking.”
Coleman’s female passenger, Asia Camp, later told police he was driving “crazy.”
Officer Locke passed Dix Drive — about two-tenths of a mile from the crash site — when he saw “a large fireball” and a telephone pole sheared in half and flipped over, the detective wrote.
A witness told police that Coleman’s car T-boned a vehicle with the man, a female driver and a toddler, which then caught fire. The man was lying next to the burning vehicle, and police pulled him from the scene, where he died. The woman and child died in the car, but the Allegheny County medical examiner’s office has not formally identified them.
The vehicle that caught fire hit a Mercedes SUV, injuring three women inside, Romilda Ramirez, Amelia Ramirez and Roseann Galiffa. Ms. Galiffa was admitted to Forbes Regional with head trauma, police said.
The chase leading up to the crash caused some to question whether the police should have been pursuing Coleman at all.
The Pittsburgh police bureau policy on motor vehicle pursuits, for instance, underwent a review last year when a police chase started by a traffic stop ended in a crash that left five hurt, including a 12-year-old. A day later, then-Chief Cameron McLay ordered officers to initiate pursuits only if they believe a violent felony occurred.
Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board in Pittsburgh, said the policy change “reduced the number of risks associated with these pursuits, which typically end up being high speed. It’s just not worth it: You’re going to get [the suspect] sooner or later. You will get them.”
She said that the city’s policy “serves everybody well. It calms things down and innocent people aren’t put at risk for minor reasons. … Once a pursuit is initiated, it’s up to a supervisor to monitor it, so you have someone at arm’s length [not caught up in the adrenaline of the chase]. I have heard our city supervisors calling a chase off for minor issues.”
She said in this case, however, “It’s a tough call, because if he had a felony warrant out for him, the officers would have a reasonable belief that this guy needs to be apprehended,” noting she knew of this case through news reports. She said that had the driver not pulled over first, the smart move for police — and of course the letter of the city policy — might have been not to pursue.