Editorials

Kansas trooper’s high-speed chase leads to teen’s death. Why was pursuit necessary?

Kansas Highway Patrol trooper Brent Lies’ hat lays on his dashboard while he writes a ticket for a speeder he pulled over. For many reasons, there are fewer troopers to patrol the highways than there once was. photo by brian corn
Kansas Highway Patrol trooper Brent Lies’ hat lays on his dashboard while he writes a ticket for a speeder he pulled over. For many reasons, there are fewer troopers to patrol the highways than there once was. photo by brian corn File photo

The Kansas Highway Patrol says it will review its high-speed chase policies following an incident Monday afternoon near Bonner Springs that left an Illinois teenager dead.

The fatal accident raises questions about the officer’s judgment and the Highway Patrol’s policy. And a full review is essential.

Kansans need to know if the victim died needlessly.

Nineteen-year-old Nathan Pena of Brookfield, Illinois, was killed when he was struck by another driver fleeing a Kansas Highway Patrol officer. The driver of that car, Anthony Dorsey, has been charged with felony murder in connection with the accident.

The officer was chasing Dorsey’s car for a “registration problem,” according to the patrol. The chase ended when Dorsey made an evasive U-turn on I-70, driving the wrong way at high speed.

His car left the pavement, striking Pena’s vehicle.

The other specifics of the chase will become public in the coming weeks. As a general matter, though, concerns with a car’s registration are not sufficient reason to risk the lives of others.

Kansas law is clear. Emergency responders are allowed to drive through red lights or at excessive speed when pursuing a suspect. But the responder must drive “with due regard for the safety of all persons.” Further, the responder isn’t excused from the consequences of “reckless disregard for the safety of others.”

The Highway Patrol’s policy requires the responding officer to undertake a pursuit only if he or she believes the risk to the public is lower than the immediate danger from the suspect remaining at large.

It isn’t clear if that standard was met in this case.

This is not to excuse the behavior of Dorsey, the suspect allegedly fleeing the patrol. The courts will decide if his actions were criminal, causing Nathan Pena’s death. That’s why Dorsey is charged with felony murder.

But it bears repeating: Unnecessary high-speed chases that place innocent lives in jeopardy are not acceptable. No one should die because someone decided to drive with an expired license plate.

Police departments around the nation are coming to grips with that fact. Local departments and the Highway Patrol should follow suit.

Lt. Adam Winters, a spokesman for the Kansas Highway Patrol, says the incident will be reviewed, and policies will be adjusted if needed.

“We allow (troopers) to pursue vehicles,” Winters said. “Obviously, during the pursuit, we constantly reevaluate the pursuit, the risk to the public, versus the violations that we’re chasing the vehicle for.”

Was that process followed in this case? Pena’s grieving family deserves answers — as do all Kansans. Safety and justice require nothing less.

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