27 Aug 2010

Driver charged over fatal pursuit

10:24 pm on 27 August 2010

Christchurch police have charged a man following a fatal pursuit in the central city which in two people died on Thursday night.

Norman Fitt, 73, was killed instantly at the scene, while Deirdre Jordan, 67, was pronounced dead in hospital after a driver fleeing police crashed into their vehicle.

Police on Friday confirmed that a 22-year-old man has been charged with driving while disqualified and further charges may be laid. He will appear at the Christchurch District Court on Tuesday.

Police say those who died were innocent victims of a tragic incident. The crash happened about 8.10pm in Fitzgerald Avenue, a notorious street for boy-racers and part of the city's new anti-cruising zone.

Police say officers began a 30-second pursuit of a Ford Mondeo being driven at 90km/h in a 50km/h zone that had no warrant or registration.

Officers say they were some way behind the car when it ran a red light and collided with the other vehicle, a Daihatsu Terios.

The 22-year-old was taken to hospital and treated in intensive care. He is recovering in a general hospital ward on Friday.

Police are appealing for witnesses to the crash to come forward. They have spoken to the families of Mr Fitt and Ms Jordan and say they are stunned and distraught.

Gym instructor Brett Christie first met Mr Fitt and Ms Jordan about three years ago and saw them at the gym on Thursday night, just before the crash.

Mr Christie says they were friends who shared a passion for fitness - taking part in aerobics championships and marathons - and lived life to the max.

Investigation begins

Canterbury Area Commander Superintendent Dave Cliff says an investigation is under way but he understands that all police protocols were followed.

Mr Cliff told Morning Report it initially seemed that the driver was going to stop.

He says police were trying to prevent the driver causing damage or injury and they are desperately sorry they could not do that before he struck the couple's car.

Mr Cliff says he has spoken to the officers involved, as have the Police Commissioner and the Minister of Police Minister, and the officers have been offered welfare support.

Police have described the impact as horrific and the crash as 100% preventable.

Inspector Malcolm Johnston says police do not know why the man failed to stop, but says if he had simply complied, two people would be alive.

National manager of road policing Superintendent Paula Rose says New Zealand's policy on pursuits have been tightened up for the fourth time in six years and is in line with other countries.

Thirteen people have now died this year following police pursuits.

Overseas advice

Professor Geoff Alpert of South Carolina University's Criminology Department has studied pursuit policy for 25 years and says for the sake of public safety some offenders have to be allowed to escape.

Professor Alpert told Morning Report that America and Canada used to give officers broad discretion on when to chase.

However, he says most police departments there now tend to target chases on violent criminals, not offenders suspected of technical, motoring and property crimes. He says police can be the fuel behind the rocket when an offender flees.