Criminal Justice

Houston police call for stronger chase penalties after fatal crash

Houston police just months ago implemented new procedures in an attempt to crack down on police chases after a sergeant’s mother was killed by a fleeing vehicle in September.

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Houston police are calling on legislators to strengthen penalties for people involved in high-speed chases after an early Monday morning chase led to a motorcycle crash that left a 19-year-old bystander dead.

The crash happened on Monday, around 2 a.m. after officers observed two vehicles racing on Interstate 45 exceeding speeds over 100 mph. Police called for air support and pursued the race which quickly turned into a high-speed chase. The chase ended shortly after one of the vehicles, later determined to be stolen, exited the highway, sped through a red light and struck a motorcyclist. The fleeing vehicle broke down about a half a mile away from the crash, and officers of another police unit took the suspect into custody.

Police stopped at the crash to perform CPR on the 19-year-old motorcyclist, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

“We have a complainant who won’t go home to his family, because a suspect in a stolen vehicle refused to stop and ran again from police and ended up killing him at an intersection,” Executive Assistant Chief Larry Satterwhite said Monday.

Averaging up to five police chases a day, Houston police this year have stood on the notion that high-speed police chases are on an uptick in Houston.

Houston police just months ago implemented new procedures in an attempt to crack down on police chases after a sergeant’s mother was killed by a fleeing vehicle in September. The new policies say Houston police will now be prohibited from chasing a vehicle when possible charges are limited to Class C offenses, traffic-related offenses or nonviolent misdemeanor offenses.

Declining to give additional details, Police Chief Troy Finner said that officers will be trained on new tactics to end pursuits faster.

More than 1,300 police pursuits have been reported just this year — a 26% increase from last year, he said.

“We do need stronger laws when it comes to fleeing from the police,” Satterwhite said Monday. “We need our legislators and elected officials to revisit this and raise the penalties for this, because it is so dangerous. It is no different than firing a gun into a crowd or anything else.”

High-speed chases have dipped nearly 40% since those new policies were implemented, Finner said, but a Houston Chronicle investigation found more than 740 people have already been injured and 27 died in more than 6,000 police pursuits over the past five years in Houston. Houston police have conducted more high-speed chases than any other city in Texas, data shows.

In Texas, evading arrest on foot will result in a misdemeanor charge, and evading arrest in a motor vehicle is a felony charge that’s often paired with other traffic-related charges.

Satterwhite said the suspect who was arrested in the high-speed pursuit Monday could be looking at a felony murder charge. Houston police and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office are conducting separate investigations into the crash.