A police chase of a speeding motorcycle on Gulf Boulevard ended in tragedy recently when the motorcycle crashed, killing the driver and his passenger. It could have been even worse. Gulf Boulevard is lined with beach businesses and homes, so a five-mile chase, at times reaching 100 miles per hour, put other motorists and pedestrians at risk.
Also troubling is the attitude of Indian Shores police Chief Earl Williams, who refuses to account for his department's actions. In fact, Williams won't admit that a chase occurred, calling his officer's high-speed pursuit of the motorcycle "clocking." "Otherwise, what's (the officer) going to put on the ticket." Of course, you can't ticket dead people.
Williams' version of events doesn't even agree with that of witnesses. The chief said his officer had already dropped back and wasn't within a mile of the motorcycle when it crashed. Witnesses at the scene, however, say a police car was 90 to 150 feet behind and traveling at 75 to 90 mph. Williams said he isn't even going to investigate his officer's actions.
Two Pinellas County sheriff's deputies were also involved in the chase but reportedly slowed and turned off their emergency lights before the motorcycle hit a curb and became airborne. Sheriff Everett Rice said he would look into his deputies' role in the outcome.
If Williams cared about the city he serves, he would use this tragedy to evaluate his department's chase rules. Police chiefs elsewhere have grown more cautious about high-speed pursuit, especially in congested areas. In St. Petersburg, for example, police have a much more reasonable policy that allows a chase only if a vehicle's occupants are suspected of having committed a violent felony.
When the Indian Shores officer took off after the motorcycle, all he suspected was a traffic violation. That isn't to say that speeders shouldn't be held responsible for their actions. But so, too, should police. There were safer ways to try to identify and apprehend the motorcyclist, such as calling ahead for assistance. The chase occurred on a barrier island with only a few access points to the mainland.
As it turned out, the motorcycle driver had prior arrests for a variety of offenses. But the pursuing officer didn't know that at the time. He chased a speeder, and that decision led to a fatal crash. Only through chance were more injuries or deaths avoided. Still, Chief Williams says there will be no investigation.
Careless police policies should not be tolerated in Indian Shores or any other community.