A Kansas City woman faces murder charges in connection with Friday afternoon's fatal crash stemming from a vehicle fleeing Independence police.
Victoria M. Brown, 24, has been charged with three counts of second-degree murder and one count of resisting a lawful stop. Independence police are defending the chase that preceded the crash, and the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office says additional charges could be filed, as a fourth person later died from the two-vehicle crash.
Brown was driving a blue Jeep that Independence Police recognized as reported stolen the day before, according to court documents, and when she fled police at high speed on westbound 23rd Street out of Independence, she crashed into a Dodge Avenger with four occupants that was turning left from eastbound 23rd onto Television Place. The impact sent the Dodge into a ditch, where it came to rest upside-down.
Two people in the Dodge – 29-year-old Aaron Daniel of Grandview and 30-year-old Shawn Johnson of Kansas City – died at the scene, and a third person, whose name has not yet been released, died at the hospital. A 27-year-old woman from Independence, Amanda Perry, was the front-seat passenger in the Jeep and also died at the scene. Two other passengers in the Jeep and another passenger in the Dodge were seriously injured.
According to court documents, IPD officers first noticed the Jeep at 23rd Street and Hardy Avenue in western Independence, then got behind the vehicle about a block away at Maywood Avenue and Westport Road when it ran a stop sign. A license plate check came back for a Chevrolet. Brown then turned the Jeep north from Westport onto Cedar Avenue and started to speed away before officers turned on their lights.
Brown then drove the Jeep over the stone median and turned west onto 23rd, pulling away from police even as officers drove 90 mph.
Officers then lost sight of the Jeep as it drove around the bend east of Television Place, and after driving around that same bend, came upon the crash scene. The chase lasted not even a minute, IPD Public Information Officer Luis Virgil said Friday at the crash site, and the intersection of 23rd and Cedar is 1.5 miles from the crash site, according to Google maps.
Virgil said officers were requesting chase assistance from a Kansas City Police helicopter even during the short duration, he said. Police were familiar with some of the people in the Jeep, he said, and they found a gun in the back seat that did not belong to the Jeep's owner.
Independence Police's policy on chases says officers “must continually question whether the seriousness of circumstances or violation justifies a speed in excess of the posted speed limit.”
In a statement, PIO John Syme said many vehicles that fail to stop for officers are, in fact, not pursued. Of the 250 pursuits IPD had in 2017 – down from 301 in 2016 – 145 were terminated due to safety concerns.
Department policy says chases for traffic violations or misdemeanors will be avoided or ended if they pose unnecessary risk to life or property, and any chase will end if there “clearly is excessive danger to anyone.” Each pursuit is monitored by a supervisor and then reviewed and scrutinized afterwards to ensure officers followed department policy.
“The Independence Police Department truly recognizes the dangers that exist during vehicle pursuits,” the statement reads, in part. “Any loss of life or serious injury sustained as a result of a fleeing suspect's reckless acts is tragic.”
In the statement, Syme said officers, when possible, can try to use stop sticks, request the KCPD helicopter or use StarChase – an adhesive dart that works as a GPS tracker after it is stuck on a suspect vehicle – to possibly avoid a chase.
Syme added that it is possible officers Friday might not have been able to deploy StarChase, either because that particular police vehicle was not equipped or because police were not able to get close enough to the suspect vehicle to deploy the adhesive dart.
The statement said IPD officers deployed StarChase 47 times and stop sticks 66 times in 2017. In the same year, they arrested 133 suspects from vehicle pursuits – 92 from chases they didn't terminate and 41 after chases they did terminate (K9 tracks, area checks, etc.). From those chases, one-third of the suspects were charged with a stolen vehicle and nearly the same number were charged with a felony or had a felony warrant.
“Without a policy that holds criminals accountable for their actions, these suspects would not have been apprehended,” the statement reads, in part.
Independence City Manager Zach Walker also issued a statement, saying IPD has developed policies and procedures in regard to police pursuits that consider safety of the public, the officers and the suspects.
“It must be noted however, that no matter how much our officers train, there are certain intangibles related to the decisions of the suspect in each situation,” Walker said. “In the unfortunate situations where a suspect chooses to use dangerous speed and erratic driving, our officers work to protect civilians and property in the area.”