Investigation clears Brier police in pursuit fatality

BRIER — Two Brier police officers did not violate department rules during a June 18 pursuit that ended in a death, an internal investigation has determined.

The review and the collision investigation recently were obtained by The Herald under public records laws.

The officers had called off the brief chase, but they continued to follow the fleeing suspect at lower speeds, without lights and sirens.

Anthony Koschei, 31, of Lynnwood, lost control of his car, crashed and died after the officers called off the chase. Witnesses saw Brier police arrive at the crash scene a few moments later.

Officers reportedly had witnessed Koschei racing another vehicle in Brier. When they tried to pull him over, he took off at speeds of up to 100 mph, detectives wrote.

Koschei made it about a mile — into Lake Forest Park, in King County — before missing a curve and hitting a clump of trees. The Lake Forest Park Police Department ruled excessive speed as the cause of the crash.

An autopsy found amphetamine, marijuana and opiates in Koschei’s system, according to the records.

Brier police conducted an internal review, a standard procedure for departments after pursuits and other major incidents.

Interim Police Chief Mike Catlett found no wrongdoing by the two officers, he wrote in a letter to the mayor on Thursday. The officers “acted within their lawful authority,” Catlett wrote.

Brier police initially kept the crash quiet. About a month after the death they provided a news release after an inquiry from The Herald. The news release was dated June 19, the day after the collision.

Pursuits, and pursuit policies, have drawn scrutiny from police chiefs in recent years amid high-profile deaths and lawsuits. Some local departments, including Everett and Bothell, have adopted stricter rules regarding when officers can chase fleeing suspects.

At least four pursuits in Snohomish County ended in fatal crashes in 2013, one of which involves a still-pending million-dollar claim against the city of Lynnwood. In one case, a Bothell police officer was given a one-day suspension for a lengthy pursuit that ended in an Everett death.

On July 26, a 23-year-old man crashed his motorcycle in Smokey Point after fleeing from a Washington State Patrol trooper. The trooper had called off the chase for safety reasons. The man lost control of his bike less than two miles away. He died at the hospital a few days later.

In the Koschei case, a Brier police officer reportedly saw an Acura and a pickup racing about 9:25 p.m. near the intersection of 216th Street SW and Poplar Way. Both drivers made U-turns and sped off when they saw the officer, according to the internal investigation. The officer lost sight of them.

He and another officer searched the area for the racing vehicles.

At 9:45 p.m., the officer pulled into the police station parking lot along 228th Street SW. The same two vehicles sped past. The other officer showed up in the area around the same time, according to the records.

The Acura, driven by Koschei, then made an unsafe lane change. The officers followed the car onto southbound 44th and attempted to pull it over. The Acura sped off along 44th, which turns into Cedar Way.

Within seconds, both officers announced over the radio that they were not going to chase the Acura, according to the records.

The officers both shut off their lights and sirens as they approached the intersection of Cedar Way and 236th Street SW.

The officers kept going but slowed down, figuring the driver might ditch the car.

The officers saw the crashed Acura shortly after entering Lake Forest Park. They summoned aid crews and called their chief. Koschei died at the scene.

It wasn’t clear in the reports exactly how far officers had chased the car using their emergency lights and sirens. The chase and the crash happened within a minute or two, according to the records. No stores along the route had useful surveillance video footage for detectives.

Koschei was a repeat felon with a lengthy rap sheet, including convictions for identity theft and drug possession. He spent years in state prisons, and most recently was released in February 2013, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Koschei failed to report to his community corrections officer in December, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He still had the warrant at the time of his death.

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