A Kansas City woman, 24, was charged Saturday with three counts of second-degree murder in connection with a fatal wreck Friday that occurred during a police chase.
In addition to murder, Victoria M. Brown was also charged with resisting a lawful stop and could face more charges now that a fourth person has died from injuries suffered in the crash, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said.
Kansas City police say the crash occurred after Brown fled from Independence police at speeds in excess of 90 mph.
The chase began on 23rd Street near Cedar Avenue after police attempted to make a traffic stop because the driver of the Jeep Patriot, which police suspected was stolen, ran a stop sign.
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It ended a mile and a half to the west when the Jeep ran into a Dodge sedan near 23rd and Television Place in Kansas City.
Two of the four people in the Dodge died at the scene, as did one of the four occupants in the Jeep. Shawn Johnson, 30, and Aaron Daniel, 29, were in the Dodge. The third victim, a passenger in the Jeep, has been identified as a 27-year-old Independence woman. An identification is being withheld pending notification of the woman's family.
The five who survived the wreck initially were hospitalized with serious or life-threatening injuries. One of them, who was in the Dodge, has since died.
A 2015 investigation by the Kansas City-based Hale Center for Journalism found that at least 24 people were killed during the previous decade as a result of high-speed police chases in the metro area.
Critics in and outside of law enforcement say chases aren't usually worth the risk they pose to the public. Less than 10 percent of pursuits are triggered by violent felonies nationwide, the Hale Center report said, citing a study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
The Independence department's policy on vehicle pursuits is 13 pages long and states that "keeping the safety of the public" should be the "highest priority" when determining whether to engage in pursuit.
The policy says that officers should avoid chases "whenever practical."
In cases such as the one Friday, where a stolen vehicle is identified, officers are supposed to consider alternatives to attempting to make an immediate arrest. Those alternatives include requesting a Kansas City Police Department helicopter to track the vehicle and deploying stop sticks.
The Star tried to reach someone at the department on Saturday to discuss the policy and its application in this case, but those attempts were unsuccessful.
According to the probable cause statement, the two Independence police officers were on patrol shortly before 4 p.m. when they saw the blue Jeep Patriot turn off 23rd Street onto Hardy Avenue. The officers recognized the vehicle as having been on a list of stolen autos and ran a computer check. From that they learned that the license plate on the Jeep belonged to another vehicle.
While they were following the Jeep, it sped off at high speed. The officers then turned on their flashing lights and sirens and went after it.
"The officers were driving 90 mph and still not gaining distance on the Jeep, they were about 200-300 yards behind it," the statement said. "The officers lost sight of the Jeep as they drove around a curve in the road east of 23rd Street and Television Place... As soon as the officers made it around the curve they observed that the Jeep had collided with a silver Dodge Avenger."
The Dodge was on its top in the grass beside the road. Brown was pinned in the driver's seat of the stolen vehicle and had to be freed by emergency workers.