When is a high-speed chase not a high-speed chase?
Speed, like beauty, is apparently in the eye of the beholder. And the OPP Highway Safety Division has deemed a recent fiery crash that took place not far from my home as not a high-speed chase. I can’t wait to tell that to the young man who burst over my threshold a few minutes after it happened, stunned at what he’d just witnessed and showing me pictures on his phone of a pickup truck being consumed by a ball of fire.
“I was coming out of work, and all of a sudden this black pickup just flew by. I mean, flew. And right on his butt was the Crown Vic, sirens wailing, then another cop car. Three of them just flying,” he told me.
Reports are that the stolen black pickup truck had been in the HOV lanes on the QEW westbound around Guelph Line in Burlington on Tuesday July 10, around 6 p.m. When police attempted to pull him over from the HOV lane, the driver instead floored it and left the highway at the Brant Street exit. Driving in a dangerous manner, according to police. Like a bat out of hell is probably a better description.
The intersection at Brant Street and the North Service Road is a zoo at most times of day, but impossibly busy at 6 p.m. It’s the intersection of two massive big-box zones and a Costco. If you go farther east along the Service Road, as the pickup truck did, you reach two more large strip plazas, each with multiple outlets. Another couple of blocks, and you’re back to a highway access.
Witnesses have already come forward to put their own estimation on the speeds actually attained by the convoy. Two separate people quoted in my local paper both put the speed at 150 km/h. I’m going to admit that it’s difficult to ascertain speed when you’re standing still. If you’re driving 100 km/h, and a car blows past you at 130 km/h, you can usually reasonably judge the speed he’s going. But even discounting the lack of reference, most people know the difference between fast, and way too fast.
The worst part of all of this? The pickup, at that debatable speed, with two cops furiously up his rear, slammed head-on a couple of blocks later into an SUV being driven by a woman. Shown the picture on the cell phone, I gasped, stunned.
“Oh geez, that kid has to be dead. And the driver of that SUV?” I said to the kids, as I looked at the inferno around the truck.
The pickup had crashed into the SUV, flipped in the air and spun. The flames were instant. The police broke windows on both vehicles to haul both drivers out, and announced there were, shockingly, no major injuries.
Reading the report the next day, it was reiterated by a police spokesman that only minor injuries were sustained so there would be no SIU investigation. What about the speed involved?
I’ve been in contact with the woman who was hit head-on. She is in agony with injuries all over her body, and saw head injuries on the other driver, and injuries to two police officers. Her statement to police said she estimated the speed of the pickup to be 150 km/h, matching other witnesses. She credits her 2010 Nissan X-Terra with saving her life; it was a fluke that she was driving it that day, though I agree with her that while it’s hard to feel lucky, sometimes you have to find even the faintest of silver linings.
I spoke to a cop friend, seeking to find out if my knowledge of when high-speed chases are permitted was still current. It is. Unless a driver is on the way to murder someone, or is leaving the scene after having just done so, chases don’t happen 99.9 per cent of the time. Too dangerous and too unpredictable. They’re nearly always called off seconds after they start and by anyone from the police on the scene, the dispatcher, or a sergeant.
“If it seems reasonable to a civilian to continue the pursuit, it usually would be. Common sense,” said my cop. I do not have all the details of what prompted that chase, but if we are to believe the officer’s own account, which stated a stolen pickup being improperly in the HOV lane started this, why did this play out the way it did in a heavily congested area of the city?
And what about the multiple, separate eyewitness accounts about the speed of that event? Are they not credible? A police spokesman would not comment on specifics of the incident, citing a pending investigation. However, the OPP’s initial report appears to raise more questions than it answers.
Correction: An earlier online version of this story contained incorrect information about the date of the crash. It has been fixed.