After the two deadly auto accidents involving CHP chases in downtown San Jose in the past three months, the agency is conducting a review of its statewide policy regarding pursuits.
Currently, the California Highway Patrol policy states that officers must pursue any vehicle that doesn’t stop when ordered to the side of the road. In contrast, San Jose police policy states that officers can give chase only when a known or suspected violent offender is in the fleeing vehicle.
The review was ordered by CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow after an August meeting with San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo, who requested the meeting following the July death of a 15-year-old girl who was riding in a car that was broadsided by a vehicle fleeing from the CHP.
Farrow later convened two meetings with his top commanders regarding pursuits. Just two days after the second meeting, two men were killed when the SUV they were riding in flipped while they fled from the CHP through downtown. Officers had tried to pull over the SUV after noticing a missing front license plate.
Farrow hasn’t made any commitment about what, if anything, the CHP will change. However, he’s already decided to rewrite some sections of current policy, clarifying language that may be ambiguous. The revision is expected to be ready by next month.
Liccardo said he’s pleased but cautious about the end result. He has another meeting with Farrow set for Oct. 7.
The CHP manual also outlines when officers should abort a pursuit: when told by a supervisor or when the risk of continuing “outweighs the danger of permitting the subject to escape.”
The San Jose police investigation into whether the CHP acted appropriately when officers decided to chase Bernandino Cuebas in his Honda for making an illegal right turn about 4 p.m. July 13 has not concluded, Farrow said. Cuebas, who turned out to be on parole for drug and car theft convictions, ran through a red light at 65 mph on San Fernando Street to avoid officers when his Honda smashed into the Mitsubishi.
Farrow pointed out that the circumstances surrounding last Thursday’s fatal crash, where back-seat passengers Vincente Reza, 22, and Jose Varales, 23, died, are different. The CHP maintains that this was not a “bumper to bumper” pursuit, and officers say they lost sight of the suspect vehicle soon after they asked the driver to pull over.
CHP officers had followed another patrol car off the highway into downtown San Jose as backup for a prior traffic stop and were heading back to the highway after they saw they weren’t needed to help San Jose police officers break up a fight.
According to Farrow and CHP reports, two officers in a CHP cruiser told the Explorer to pull over, which it initially did, until driver Jose Antonio Hernandez, 19, “peeled out” from the side of the road, possibly reaching speeds of up to 110 mph. The officers “briefly” went after the Explorer at an unknown speed but turned off their sirens and lights after they lost it.
The reports state that when they caught up to the Ford again, it had already flipped over on its side, and that’s when they activated their sirens. Hernandez is now facing five felony counts, including two for vehicular manslaughter.