Crash on U.S. 2 is county’s 3rd fatal pursuit since May

INDEX — A high-speed police chase that ended in the death of a Skykomish man Monday night along U.S. 2 near Index was the third fatal pursuit in Snohomish County since May.

The 6:30 p.m. collision also marked the second fatality on the highway in recent days, again sparking debate about one of the county’s deadliest stretches of road.

On Monday night, two Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies were eastbound in separate vehicles chasing a suspected drunken driver, according to police.

Sheriff’s deputies and Washington State Patrol troopers first attempted to apprehend the man about 5 p.m. after 911 calls reporting him as a possible DUI in the Sultan area. They caught up with him about 90 minutes later near Index.

The driver, a 55-year-old Skykomish man, reportedly fled from a traffic stop. During the pursuit, he crossed the center line and crashed into a fourth vehicle. The deputies’ vehicles then collided with the other cars, causing a pile-up that closed U.S. 2 until early Tuesday morning.

The Skykomish man died at the scene. His name had not been released Tuesday. Both deputies were taken to the hospital for treatment of minor injuries. The fourth driver, an 86-year-old Edmonds man, also was expected to be OK.

The Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team is investigating. The team combines detectives from around the county to examine cases where officers use fatal force.

A Washington State Patrol memo sent Tuesday morning attributed the cause of the crash to the Skykomish man speeding and crossing the center line.

In pursuits, police sometimes ram a suspect’s vehicle to cause the driver to lose control, an effort known as a “PIT maneuver.” Investigators on Tuesday said they could not yet say whether the deputies’ vehicles had any contact with the Skykomish man’s 1992 Chevrolet pickup before the collision.

“Detectives are currently working to determine the events which ultimately led to the collision and fatality,” said Aaron Snell, an Everett police officer and SMART spokesman.

Meanwhile, police departments in Bothell and Lynnwood have ongoing internal investigations regarding fatal pursuits. One already has led to a $1.2 million claim for damages against the city of Lynnwood.

Bothell police on May 12 chased a convicted felon into downtown Everett. During the chase, Joseph Strange, 33, plowed into a car being driven by Rachael Kamin, a nurse on her way home from work. Strange is awaiting trial for murder, expected to begin later this year.

On May 24, a woman trying to outrun Lynnwood police crashed into a van driven by Jerry Bennett, 72. Bennett was killed.

The driver, Shellie Rose Collins, 42, was convicted of murder in July and sentenced to 22 years in prison.

The claim against the city of Lynnwood was filed on behalf of Bennett’s estate. The estate administrator is Bennett’s longtime friend and colleague, Mountlake Terrace Mayor Jerry Smith.

Lawsuits, more crowded streets and high-profile deaths over the years have led many Washington police departments to adopt stricter pursuit policies.

Everett police in 2004 adopted policies restricting officers from pursuits under most circumstances. The change came shortly after a driver fleeing from police struck and killed someone else.

In one case, Snohomish County and Sultan paid a settlement of $600,000 in a wrongful death claim regarding Matthew Acheson, 25. Acheson died in 1996 in a head-on collision on U.S. 2. An oncoming driver had crossed the center line while fleeing from police.

Between January 2010 and spring 2012, at least eight people died in the state during police pursuits, according to data kept by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. Three were not involved in the chase, but were hit by a driver fleeing police.

More than 60 people have died in crashes along U.S. 2 between Everett and Stevens Pass since 1999, state data show. Many of those crashes have involved drivers who were speeding, drinking, on drugs, or having medical issues.

On Saturday, a Federal Way man died in a head-on crash along U.S. 2 just three miles from where Monday’s crash took place, officials said. The last serious collision on the highway before that was more than two months ago.

Per policy, both deputies involved in Monday’s crash were placed on leave pending the investigation, Snell said.

Investigations regarding officers’ fatal use of force often take more than a year before findings are made public. Such cases often are reviewed by prosecutors to determine whether the force was justified. Internal reviews determine whether the officer followed departmental policies. Such reviews often outlast any civil litigation.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449, rking@heraldnet.com.

Information sought

Detectives want to speak with anyone who may have seen any part of the pursuit on U.S. 2 on Monday night, including people in a white passenger car that was passed by a pickup that later crashed. Anyone with information can call 360-654-1143.

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