El Cerrito chase, fatal crash near Bay Bridge raising safety concerns over police pursuits

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Thursday, March 21, 2024
Deadly El Cerrito chase raising safety concerns over police pursuits
The El Cerrito chase that caused fatal crash near the Bay Bridge toll plaza is raising public safety concerns over police pursuits.

EL CERRITO, Calif. (KGO) -- Ciara Keegan says she is lucky to be alive.

"As I was driving, about to get onto the freeway on-ramp, a car fleeing the police skidded out of its lane and hit my car head on," Keegan said, describing what led to her accident on Dec. 7, 2023.

It started when San Francisco police chased a vehicle across the Bay Bridge and into Oakland. Based on her experience, Keegan believes that police chases put the public in danger.

"There are other, safer alternatives to police chases. And I really think that we need to approach police chases with extreme caution," said Keegan, who still suffers from back pain.

RELATED: Suspects break into East Bay shop before causing deadly wrong-way crash near Bay Bridge

What began as an overnight break-in at an East Bay tobacco store, developed into a police chase and deadly wrong-way crash near the Bay Bridge.

A 2006 California law requires law enforcement agencies to report pursuits to the CHP within 30 days. A 2021 CHP report states that there were 12,513 police pursuits that year.

The report lists that 20% of police chases resulted in a crash. Of that 20%, 63% were property damage only, 25% were injury crashes, and close to 2% were fatal crashes -- or 52 deaths.

A further breakdown of the crashes involving a fatality: 58% were the drivers of the pursued vehicle, 15% were passengers in the pursued car, and almost 27% were an uninvolved third party.

"We are really taking a close look at police actions prior to the collision to determine whether or not they were in department policy or not," said Police Chief Paul Keith with the El Cerrito Police Department.

RELATED: Lafayette man ID'd as driver killed by burglary suspects in wrong-way crash near Bay Bridge

Chief Keith says his department is conducting an internal review following Tuesday's break-in at a tobacco shop, which led to a police pursuit onto I-80 headed towards the Bay Bridge. But when the driver made a U-turn into on-coming traffic, the officer called off the pursuit.

Shortly after, the suspect's truck hit a car head-on, killing the driver.

The El Cerrito Police Department Policy Manual lists 11 factors to consider when initiating a police chase. Chief Keith says this was a possible felony burglary, which is one of the instances that could warrant a pursuit.

Still, San Francisco Police Commissioner Kevin Benedicto says he is still concerned about police pursuits.

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"Seeing the tragic outcome of that chase serves as a reminder that police chases and pursuits are incredibly dangerous," Benedicto said.

He says there isn't any evidence at this point to suggest that El Cerrito police did not followed procedure. But adds that new technologies like drones or GPS tracking offer alternatives.

"A recent study by the San Francisco Department of Police Accountability showed that the apprehension rates for a pursuit more than doubled when there was some kind of aerial support," Benedicto said.

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