Detroit cops review car chase policy after fatal crash
Detroit — Police Chief James Craig said Thursday his department is "re-evaluating vehicle pursuits" after a deadly patrol car chase that ended in the deaths of two young children on the city's east side.
The children were struck Wednesday evening by the driver of a Chevrolet Camaro who was fleeing police during a brief chase along Nottingham Street near Frankfort. Three other children were injured.
Craig said the patrol supervisor reported trying to call off the chase, though police do not yet have confirmation of that. Police didn't find a gun in the Camaro, despite reports from pursuing officers that they gave chase because they saw a weapon, he said.
The police officers involved are on restricted duties during the investigation, he said.
Craig said his department is reviewing its pursuit policy after the crash. He said he likes to "err" on the side that police pursuits not be conducted through neighborhoods, but there are times when they may be necessary.
A small group of neighbors, friends and supporters gathered Thursday evening near the crash site.
A gray stuffed elephant with "r.i.p." painted on its side was attached to the light pole at the intersection. Flickering candles circled the post and sidewalk.
Kimberly Stephenson, an evangelist with the city's God Universal House of Prayer, lives nearby and coordinated the vigil. She heard the crash and saw some of the injured children.
The incident left anger, frustration and sadness, she said. "Now people are afraid to even put their kids out here."
The car, which barreled into two groups of children hundreds of feet apart along Nottingham, killed 6-year-old Michelangelo Jackson and 3-year-old Makiah Jackson, who were identified by their aunt, Rose Scott. Among the three injured children, one was in critical condition Thursday and two others were hospitalized in serious condition.
Michelle Miller, who works for Detroit Public Schools and once lived in the neighborhood for more than 20 years, also was moved to attend the vigil.
"These kids are dying so young out on the streets," she said. "It's really sad."
Scott said the car drove onto the sidewalk and ran down her niece and nephew first, and the driver kept going. The car continued for another 500 feet, on the grass in front of homes, striking the wood porch of a vacant home and finally slamming into three young boys playing in a driveway.
"He drove down the street and was hitting kids on the sidewalk. He didn't hit one and stop," Scott said. "He was driving on the sidewalk hitting kids one after the other."
The driver of the Camaro was identified by police as a 29-year-old parole absconder for a conviction for possession of methamphetamine. The passenger in the car, who was hospitalized, had a prior concealed weapon charge in 2012, Craig said. No charges had been issued as of Thursday evening.
The chase began Wednesday evening after police in the three-officer vehicle "made eye contact" with the suspects, Craig said. After that, the pursuit began with lights and sirens activated.
Craig would not discuss further details about the incident, such as why the possible presence of a gun warranted the chase. A resident in the area reported he did see one on one of the suspects after the crash, he said.
The chase started blocks away from the crash scene, near Chatsworth and Cornwall, said Sgt. Cassandra Lewis, a spokeswoman for the Detroit Police Department.
Thursday morning, family members pointed to skid marks running along a 100-foot stretch of sidewalk on Nottingham where the suspect's car left the road and jumped onto the sidewalk before plowing into the children.
Arbrey Gardner said his 7-year-old son Zyaire's lungs are collapsed and the child remains on a ventilator.
"His lungs ... completely collapsed. They can't get him to breathe like he is supposed to," Gardner said of his son, who was air-lifted to the University of Michigan just after noon Thursday.
Gardner was at the house when the incident happened about 7:40 p.m. on Wednesday.
"When it all happened, (Zyaire) was laying on the porch, in shock. I spoke to him. He came out of shock and he screamed. I put my hand on his chest, and I felt he was broken. I told him it was going be OK. He was halfway breathing. I could tell his lungs was filling up with something," he said.
Zyaire saw the car coming, Gardner said, and grabbed his cousin, 3-year-old Darius Andrews Jr., who was in serious condition.
"(Zyaire) is the real hero. He saved my son's life. He grabbed him and tried to hold him," said the boy's father, Darius Andrews Sr., who spent the night with his son at the hospital.
"He has a brace on his neck. He just wants to go home. He is in ICU," Andrews said.
The third surviving victim, Isiah Williams, 5, also remained hospitalized in serious condition.
Down the street, at the house where the children died, Temeda Winfield stopped to offer condolences and an embrace to their mother, who sat on a porch surrounded by relatives and mourners. Perched below were an array of colorful stuffed animals and balloons.
"I talked to her and let her know I'm praying for her and her family," said Winfield, who was with her three children at the vigil.
The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality issued a statement Thursday, saying it is re-examining Detroit Police Department chase protocols.
"We can say that two wrongs do not make a right. If it was wrong for the chased driver to drive recklessly, irresponsibly and dangerously, it is equally reckless, dangerous and irresponsible for police to give chase in a highly populated residential neighborhood."
The memory of what happened Wednesday seemed to haunt those who saw it.
Family friend Victoria Bell on Thursday stood feet away from where she had witnessed the car striking the children.
"The kids — all they wanted to do was play," she said quietly. "They were playing, doing nothing wrong."
Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.