KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A police chase in Kansas City, Kansas ended with two suspects dead and the driver of the vehicle charged with murder.
Wednesday, Zackery Smith, 20, was charged with two counts of Felony Murder in the 1st Degree, one count of Felony Interference with Law Enforcement, one count of Felony Eluding a Police Officer and one count of No Driver’s License in Possession.
Those killed were Amber Bledsoe and Jason Edwards; they were riding in the Lexus that Smith was driving as they were fleeing from police on Monday.
Officers said they stole gun accessories from Cabela's before 3:45 p.m.
KCK Police Chief Terry Zeigler said they ran a red light at the intersection of 94th and Parallel Parkway when a white truck slammed into the vehicle.
The current KCK police policy is officers can pursue for anything; this went into effect on June 1.
This includes both traffic and shoplifting violations. Zeigler said the deaths do not fall on the police department.
"That young man made decisions that cost two people their lives. And that's not our fault," said Zeigler. "He decided to run from police and he decided to enter that intersection against a red light."
Had this happened before June 1, officers would not have pursued.
In 2014, they raised the chase threshold after two innocent bystanders, Graciela Olivas and 8-year-old Jasmine Rodriguez, were killed in chases.
That change meant officers needed probable cause and they only went after offenders who committed felonies against a person. Those range from rape to aggravated burglary.
Zeigler said they changed their policy a few months ago because of a spike in crime.
"Bad guys knew we weren't chasing people which is a horrible message," said Zeigler.
The murder rate in KCK went up from 32 in 2014 to 47 in 2016, according to the police department's website.
But criminal attorney Joshuah Peter wonders if that is because KCK police were using a weaker chase policy or if it was caused by something else.
"Can you put a direct correlation between that and pursuit policies?" said Peter.
In fact, 30 people have already been killed this year, which Zeigler said is average.
Peter said when offenders take off they may not be thinking about the safety of the public and those out driving, but rather they have a personal reason for trying to avoid arrest.
"They also may be worried about the stop itself," said Peter.
Zeigler said he will need to wait until next year to see if the policy has detoured crime.
"But I do think we've interrupted criminal activity — getting drugs and guns and warrants," said Zeigler.
Officers have been 125 pursuits since the policy changed.