Police cleared over fatal pursuit

A police pursuit of a 15-year-old driver who died when he crashed a stolen car in Auckland last year, complied with the law, an investigation has found.

Timoti Mohi died and his passenger sustained serious injuries when the stolen Nissan Silvia he was driving crashed at high speed into a power pole on Mt Hobson Rd just before 1am on January 5, 2011.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority today released a report on its investigation into the 77-second pursuit of the unlicensed driver along Great North Rd, Karangahape Rd and the southern motorway. It was abandoned about 1km before the crash.

The authority found the pursuit met law and policy.

"Timoti Mohi was prepared to take great risks to avoid being caught by Police. Pursuant to the IPCA Act, the authority has formed the opinion that no police actions were contrary to law, unreasonable, unfair, unjustified or undesirable.''

The authority re-stated a recommendation for police to develop policies for breathtesting officers involved in critical incidents.

However, there was no reason to believe the officer driving, described only as Officer A, had consumed any alcohol, it said.

The pursuit began after the officer responded to reports the occupants of two cars were interfering with parked vehicles in Grey Lynn.

While driving towards the area he saw the cars drive through a red light at an estimated 70-80km/h, in a 50km/h zone.

He activated his lights and sounded the siren and pursued the cars when they failed to stop, the report said.

The vehicles drove through red lights at three major intersections along Karangahape Rd, before the fleeing drivers entered the motorway, speeding to an estimated 180km/h, with the officer reaching 150km/h.

The officer then followed instructions from the police Northern Communications Centre and abandoned the chase, about 1km from where the Nissan crashed, at the Market Rd off-ramp.

When he arrived the at the scene, the car was on fire, Timoti was dead and his passenger was in a critical condition.

Timoti's blood samples tested positive for cannabis but showed no trace of alcohol.

Under police policy, police can pursue a fleeing driver when they have been signalled by police to stop and fail to do so, and attempt to evade being apprehended.

However, "safety of the public and officers'' takes precedence over the immediate apprehension of the offender''

The policy adds that a pursuit must be abandoned under several circumstances including

* if an offender's identity becomes known and they can be apprehended later

* the distance becomes too great between the offender and police car

* the siren or warning lights are not working

* lost contact between the officer and communications centre.

Regulations around pursuits have been the subject of controversy following a number of fatal crashes following police chases.

Teenager Sina Naraghizadeh, 19, died after he drove at speeds of up to 200km/h while fleeing police last July.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority found police actions during the pursuit of Naraghizadeh and two other pursuits that ended in fatal crashes - Caine Burgess, 20, in Pukekohe last July and Robert Seifert, 36, near Manaia in Taranaki last October - complied with law and policy.

- Abby Gillies of APNZ

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