Jacqueline Reynolds, a 56-year-old assistant at a Chicago law firm, was killed as she drove to a funeral when another vehicle sped past a red light and smashed into her car. Ten months later, and less than five miles away, off-duty Chicago police Officer David Harris, 42, was driving home after a late shift at work when he, too, died when a speeding car plowed into his vehicle at an intersection, the Chicago Tribune reports. Both were innocent victims of high-speed chases by police officers who acted recklessly, endangered the public and violated their departments’ pursuit policies, according to experts for the victims’ families. Lawsuits filed over both incidents have been resolved. Calumet Park and the city of Chicago will be paying out nearly a combined $13 million.
The deaths and payouts shine a light on the risks that police pursuits continue to create on roadways despite toughened restrictions on when officers should undertake them. The Chicago Police Department changed its rules in 2003, months after a pregnant pedestrian was hit and killed by a car being chased by an officer over a stolen wallet. Police typically must follow a balancing test when deciding whether to give chase, pursuing only those wanted for a violent crime while weighing other risk factors such as traffic volume and road conditions. Geoffrey Alpert, who specializes in the study of police pursuits and was hired by the plaintiffs as an expert witness in both lawsuits, said it can be difficult for officers to terminate a chase once they’ve started. “You don’t want to give up. You want to catch the (driver),” said criminologist Alpert of the University of South Carolina. “Now the problem with that is the risk factors — traffic, congestion, this guy’s blowing lights. Every intersection is like playing Russian roulette.”