Police cleared over fatal pursuits

A teenager drove at between 150kmh and 200kmh while fleeing police in a pursuit that ended with his death, an investigation has found.

The crash that killed Sina Naraghizadeh, 19, was one of three fatal crashes that happened during or shortly after police pursuits and therefore investigated by the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

The authority found police actions during the pursuits of all three drivers - Mr Naraghizadeh in west Auckland last September 18; Caine Burgess, 20, in Pukekohe last July 18; and Robert Seifert, 36, near Manaia in Taranaki last October 9 - complied with law and policy.

The pursuit of Mr Naraghizadeh started when an officer in an unmarked police car saw him drive through a red light. The officer also suspected the car was overloaded so activated their lights and siren.

The Subaru, which turned out to be stolen, pulled over but sped off when an officer approached it on foot.

The unmarked police car then started a pursuit, during which Mr Naraghizadeh stopped to let out two of his six passengers before speeding off again.

"The passengers said Mr Naraghizadeh was urged to flee the police checkpoint by a male backseat passenger, who at the time was subject to a 24-hour police curfew, the authority's report said.

"Several passengers stated they were not aware the Subaru had been stolen.''

The pursuit was called off after officers lost sight of the Subaru for a second time but it was found on its roof soon after, Mr Naraghizadeh having lost control, struck a tree, a lamppost and a signpost before flipping on to its roof.

The four passengers received minor to serious injuries but Mr Naraghizadeh was killed. Traces of alcohol, methamphetamine and cannabis were found in his blood.

A police investigation could not establish how fast the Subaru travelled during the chase but passengers said it was between 150kmh and 200kmh.

"The pursuing police had reported their own speed at 90kmh. It was a 50kmh speed zone,'' the report said.

"Other witnesses who had been working at a nearby McDonald's and a service station reported the Subaru had driven over a traffic island in the middle of the road without slowing down. They also reported that police appeared to be travelling some distance behind the Subaru and at a slower speed.

"As a result of its investigation, the authority is satisfied that police conducted the pursuit in accordance with law and policy, and that they prioritised public safety.''

An investigation into the pursuit of Mr Burgess, which started when his car was seen driving erratically, found it was called off about 30 seconds before he hit another vehicle when he ran a stop sign.

Mr Burgess, who had cannabis traces in his blood, suffered multiple injuries and died at the scene, while the driver of the car he hit suffered broken bones and other injuries.

Two officers in an unmarked car had pursued Mr Burgess for about two minutes over 7km before the pursuit was called off when the fleeing car reached speeds of about 140kmh in a 50kmh zone.

The police car had reached 140kmh on the open road but pulled back to 80kmh in the 50kmh zone before abandoning the chase.

"A resident of Blake Rd confirms police had already stopped on the side of the road when he heard a thud and saw a cloud of dust in the distance which he took to be a car crash,'' the report said.

"The resident then observed the police car pull out and head to the scene of the accident. Another eyewitness confirmed the police car arrived at the crash scene travelling at normal speed, and without its lights and siren activated.''

The third crash investigated by the authority started when Mr Seifert deliberately drove his Toyota into a parked, marked police car in Opunake "to attract police attention''.

Mr Seifert drove off after hitting the police car, covering 30km in 14 minutes for an average speed of 132kmh before crashing near Manaia.

"Eyewitnesses who observed his driving at various times following the initial collision reported that he travelled at excessive speed but that twice he also appeared to slow down and look for following vehicles,'' the report said.

Two marked police cars both reached high speeds while pursuing Mr Seifert, with one abandoning it when he lost sight of him. The second pursued him for about 2-1/2 minutes but "did not have time to consider abandoning the pursuit before they found Mr Seifert's vehicle had crashed''.

"Eyewitnesses report that both police cars slowed down when they travelled through the more built-up area around Manaia,'' the report said.

Mr Seifert, who was not wearing a seatbelt, died of head injures when he drove into a concrete power pole.

The authority made no recommendations in any of the three investigations.

- Sharon Lundy of APNZ

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