A police chase that never should have taken place, by a police officer that never should have been a police officer, resulted in a tragic head on collision and the loss of four(4) innocent lives.
Make no mistake, police officers have a difficult job, and must make split second decisions. However, the decisions in this case were anything but split second, and in violation of protocol.
The facts are as follows: Cpl. Sergio Perez tried to pullover an SUV at Northwest 22nd Avenue and 144th Street in Opa-locka for “an improper right turn.” Willie Dumel, the driver of the SUV, sped off, and the chase was on. With Perez in pursuit Dumel hopped on the Golden Glades interchange and headed northbound on I-95. Dumel exited at Ives Dairy Road, turned westbound, then suddenly turned right and headed down the southbound exit ramp, going north. Moments later, The SUV crashed head-on into a minivan, killing four people and leaving a trail of engine parts and debris scattered across Interstate 95. The impact was so severe, that only 2 of the occupants could be removed from the vehicle. The other 2 occupants were towed directly to the medical examiners office.
While it is questionable whether pursuit should have been initiated in the first place, the next question is whether Officer Perez should have continued beyond Opa-locka’s jurisdiction, through southbound I-95 and then against traffic.
Opa Locka’s police department pursuit policy prohibits officers from continuing a chase that goes against the flow of traffic. In addition, Opa-locka’s policy allows pursuits only in the case of serious felonies such as murder, rape and robberies.
It would certainly appear as if this chase violated pursuit policy.
Officer Perez was in a difficult position. I do not doubt he was trying to do his job, and did not want to let a suspect get away. With age comes wisdom. Officer Perez is only (26) Twenty Six years of age, and has some red flags in his past. He was fired from Miami Shores Police Department, kicked out of the police academy and, as a recruit, arrested for causing a nasty crash while drag-racing off duty. Probably not the best person to decide whether to continue a high speed chase for a traffic infraction.
And now this, following the accident Officer Perez stated that he did not pursue the suspect down the wrong-way ramp. However, radio dispatch tapes say otherwise. Perez tells dispatch, “We’re now going northbound in the southbound lanes.”
The innocent families of the four victims can certainly file Wrongful death lawsuits against the City of Opa Locka Police Department. The lawsuit falls under Florida Statute 768.28, which states:
(5) The state and its agencies and subdivisions shall be liable for tort claims in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances, but liability shall not include punitive damages or interest for the period before judgment. Neither the state nor its agencies or subdivisions shall be liable to pay a claim or a judgment by any one person which exceeds the sum of $200,000 or any claim or judgment, or portions thereof, which, when totaled with all other claims or judgments paid by the state or its agencies or subdivisions arising out of the same incident or occurrence, exceeds the sum of $300,000.
Our condolences go out to the families of these innocent victims, and to Officer Perez, who I am sure feels a great deal of remorse.