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Bill: Officers not liable in high-speed chases, deaths

By Richard Piatt | Posted - Feb 18th, 2013 @ 6:56pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — Police chases are dangerous for everyone on the road. It is for this reason that officers are given guidelines about when to engage.

A Utah lawmaker is looking to remove liability from the officers involved, regardless of what happens to the driver being chased. But one Utah mother who lost her teenage son in a high-speed chase said changing the current law would be bad public policy.

On March 24, 2010, 16-year-old Wayne Torrie told his mother, Reaghn, he'd been bullied at school, got into an argument at home and took off in the family car. He called his mom from the road, who called police.

"I called them for assistance," said Reaghn. "Then Wayne communicated to me that he was almost out of gas and that if police chased him he would speed up and hit a close object."

Reaghn said the officers knew Wayne was an upset teenager, not a hardened criminal. But the chase continued anyway.

"They knew that information," she said. "Turning on their lights and doing what they did seemed like a lack of training, maybe a lack of judgment call on their part."

Wayne hit a berm and was thrown from the car. He later died.

Turning on their lights and doing what they did seemed like a lack of training, maybe a lack of judgment call on their part.

–Reaghn Torrie, mother

"I can't explain the absolute loss of losing your child," Reaghn said. "I don't think it's something that someone who hasn't gone through it would understand."

Reaghn said the chase and her son's death — which she said wasn't necessary — took the joy out of her family's life. Her point: the proposed bill is a bad idea because it throws protocol out the window.

Others share her concerns.

"It gives the police carte blanche to do anything they want to once they turn their lights and siren on," said attorney James McConkie. "They don't have to obey any protocols."

Police argue that if an officer turns on his or her lights to stop a driver, that driver should pull over. The bill acknowledges these concerns, saying police officers and departments aren't liable for what happens to a driver who chooses to flee.

A lawsuit over Wayne Torrie's death resulted in a finding of "no fault" on the part of the officer involved.

The bill's sponsor, Stuart Adams, said he recognizes the Torries' story is a difficult one. He calls his bill "a work in progress."


Richard Piatt

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