4 families grieve following deadly Independence car chase

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There is a growing memorial at 23rd and Television Place where four people died as a result of a police pursuit. 

Shawn Johnson’s family is one of four who on Monday grieved the loss of their loved one.

“The pain is tremendous to the whole family. Whatever happened or how it happened, whatever the lady did to hit my son, she hurt a lot of people,” Shawn Johnson Sr., the father of one of the victims, said. 

On Friday afternoon, Shawn Johnson Jr. was on his way to pick up his mother’s car with Aaron Daniel and two others when police say Victoria Brown, driving a stolen Jeep, slammed into their Dodge Avenger.

“He’s a good kid. He turned around and he finished and graduated from aviation school, got him a job to where he can get his aviation license and support his three kids,” Johnson Sr. said.

The impact killed Johnson, Daniel and another man in the Dodge.

It also took the life of a 27-year-old passenger in the stolen SUV.

“It’s a real tragedy for any of them kids to leave this earth like that, you know, I don’t understand it and probably I won't ever understand it,” Johnson Sr. said.

Independence police have said officers lost sight of the stolen Jeep doing speeds of up to 90 mph moments before the crash.

According to the department’s chase policy, "Any pursuit will be discontinued when there clearly is excessive danger to anyone." 

Independence police are also one of the agencies in the metro that possess StarChase technology. It allows officers to track suspects with GPS instead of high-speed chases. 

It’s unclear whether the officers ever considered using it in Friday’s chase.

Johnson’s father wants something changed. 

“The police chases, all of it has to stop. They got to figure out some other kind of way cause innocent people are losing their lives behind this,” Johnson Sr. said.

The Independence Police Department sent this statement to 41 Action News:

“It is the policy of the Independence Police Department to conduct vehicular pursuits as safely as possible, keeping the safety of the public as our highest priority. Our policy on Vehicle Pursuits (No. 1994-026) states that officers involved in any type of emergency operation of a police vehicle must continually question whether the seriousness of the circumstances or violation justifies a speed in excess of the posted speed limit.

Many vehicles that fail to stop for police officers are, in fact, not pursued. Officers use discretion when deciding whether or not to pursue a fleeing vehicle. The policy states that pursuits for traffic violations or for misdemeanors will be avoided or terminated if they pose unnecessary risk to life or property and any pursuit will be discontinued when there clearly is excessive danger to anyone. The Independence Police Department truly recognizes the dangers that exist during vehicle pursuits. Any loss of life or serious injury sustained as a result of a fleeing suspect’s reckless acts is tragic. With that in mind, we have sought out and deployed measures to end them more quickly. These measures include Stop Sticks, StarChase, and the assistance of KCPD’s helicopter unit. 

When a vehicle pursuit has begun, the officer continually evaluates the importance of continuing while weighing the risk to public safety versus the need to apprehend the suspect(s).  Of the 250 vehicle pursuits last year, 145 (58%) were discontinued (terminated) due to public safety concerns. This is mostly done when the suspect’s driving becomes dangerous and the risk of continuing the chase outweighs the reward of taking him or her into custody. Each pursuit is monitored by a supervisor and then reviewed and scrutinized when concluded to ensure that officers adhered to department policy. 

Police officers also look for alternatives to initiating pursuits, when situations allow, including requesting a KCPD helicopter to observe the vehicle until it is stopped so the suspect can be taken into custody, deployment of Stop Sticks or StarChase prior to initiating a vehicle stop or by safely boxing in the vehicle at an intersection, parking lot or other locations.

In an effort to avoid or quickly end pursuits but still adhering to our responsibility of arresting criminal suspects, IPD was the first in the KC metro area to deploy the StarChase system. This device allows an officer to remotely affix a GPS tracking device to a pursued or about to be pursued vehicle. Once the tracker is affixed, its location can be tracked using a computer and the pursuit can be discontinued. In 2017, the StarChase device was deployed 47 times and Stop Sticks were deployed 66 times. Due to costs, not all IPD vehicles are equipped with this device.

In 2017, a total of 133 suspects were apprehended as a result of vehicle pursuits, 92 from pursuits that were not terminated and 41 who were apprehended after the pursuit was terminated (K9 track, area check, etc.). 33% of these suspects were charged with Stolen Auto and 32% of them were charged with a Felony or had a Felony Warrant. Without a policy that hold criminal’s accountable for their actions, these suspects would not have been apprehended.

There was a 17% decrease in the amount of vehicle pursuits from 2016 to 2017 (from 301 to 250).

In consideration of serving the greater good of the community, the Independence Police Department’s pursuit policy allows for the apprehension of criminals, while still listing sufficient restrictions to maintain the highest level of safety to the public that is possible under the circumstances. The Independence Police Department is dedicated to keeping public safety as its highest priority and continues to seek improved ways to better serve the citizens of Independence.”

Independence’s City Manager Zach Walker also released this statement:

“We cannot speak on any active investigations but in general the Independence Police Department has developed policies and procedures in regard to police pursuits that consider the safety of the public, our officers and the suspects involved. It must be noted however, that no matter how much our officers train there are certain intangibles related to the decisions of the suspect in each situation. In the unfortunate situations where a suspect chooses to use dangerous speed and erratic driving, our officers work to protect civilians and property in the area.”

Aaron Daniel's family plans to hold a balloon release at the scene of the crash on Sunday.

The families also created GoFundMe pages for Johnson Jr. and Daniel.

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