Jerry Rivas said he watched police cars speed past him for decades.
“No lights, no siren, no ground,” the Sanford resident said.
He claims he even called the Harnett County Sheriff’s Office about an incident just hours before two people were killed in a pursuit by a deputy on March 3.
“This is not the first time. This happens repeatedly,” said Rivas. “I’ve called the sheriff’s department and the North Carolina Highway Patrol repeatedly and it’s getting absolutely nowhere. It seems like every year they drive more recklessly.”
Harnett County Assemblyman K. Letarte was in a chase when he ran into Finch. 65, and Patricia Finch, 64, of East Gulf Lake, Minnesota, earlier this month.
The ABC11 I-Team found that this is far from the only Harnett County police pursuit that has resulted in injuries and damage.
The I-Team has received liability claims from the county detailing more than a hundred vehicle accidents involving deputies between 2012 and 2022.
Incidents range from hitting deer and raccoons to backing into other cars, hitting walls and spilling out of ditches.
A more serious detailed incident was when a congressman hit a school bus in October 2022, resulting in more than $7,000 in damage.
Rivas said he was in the area when the bus accident happened.
“It’s a bus. It’s 11 feet wide. He is 12 feet tall. He’s bright yellow. It’s a bus. asked he.
In 2016, a congressman collided with a bicyclist, and a settlement agreement revealed the county had agreed to pay $27,000.
Overall, the documents show that the department has filed at least $800,000 worth of liability claims related to auto accidents over the past decade.
Not all of the physical and personal injuries caused by MPs’ cars resulted from police chases.
The I-Team identified at least 16 accidents between 2014 and 2021 in which “high-speed pursuit,” “chasing,” or “PIT maneuvering” was named. County documents show the agency has earned more than $102,000 from the pursuit-related accidents.
“There is no reason for that. It’s pointless and look at the reason the officer was driving in excess of 100mph because someone had a fictitious tag and was speeding. Really? It wasn’t murder. It wasn’t a bank robbery,” Rivas said.
The Harnett County Sheriff’s Office has not responded to I-Team’s request for comment on the liabilities.
Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel for the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association, said agencies often pay for these claims through an insurance company, but that doesn’t mean taxpayers are immune from the damage.
“All the money that flows through the county government ultimately comes from taxpayers’ money. There’s money to pay the insurance premiums, or money to pay the claims,” Caldwell said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that North Carolina had 16 fatal accidents related to police pursuits in 2020; the highest since 1995 and a 78% increase over previous years.
Caldwell argued that despite the risks, these endeavors still have purpose.
“If law enforcement officials didn’t prosecute criminals, who were people involved in criminal activity, there would be a tremendous cost to the community and more victims of crime and more deaths from drug dealer activity,” he said. “There is a huge cost to all of us from criminal activity, whether it’s financial, emotional or psychological.”
He said even when an officer appears to be pursuing a suspect for a minor violation, there is often a larger concern behind it.
“You have drugs in the car, guns in the car and victims of human trafficking in the car. So what might initially seem like a minor injury may actually be something worse on the whole,” Caldwell said. “People who drive, who usually only have a headlight or an expired tag, don’t drive briskly.”
He explained that lawmakers must weigh the risk and benefit before beginning the persecution.
“Each individual prosecution is a fact-specific situation, always evaluating the violation for which the person is being prosecuted, the person’s driving habits, the environment the officer encounters. So it’s all of those things that go through an officer’s mind at once,” Caldwell said.
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Rivas said he would like law enforcement officers to have their own liability insurance and be charged in accidents to increase accountability. But meanwhile, Rivas said he doesn’t feel safe on the streets.
“I have five grandchildren who live less than two miles from here and there is a four-way stop right in front of their house. “It scares me how some of these officers are acting.”
The North Carolina State Highway Patrol said its investigation into the fatal March 3 accident should be completed soon.
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