3 deaths in 2001 police chase led to widespread procedural changes

A 7-minute pursuit that went horribly wrong

Three people were killed in this Jan. 26, 2001, fiery crash in downtown Prescott when a stolen car Prescott Valley police were chasing T-boned into a pickup at Gurley and Montezuma streets in Prescott.

Daily Courier file

Three people were killed in this Jan. 26, 2001, fiery crash in downtown Prescott when a stolen car Prescott Valley police were chasing T-boned into a pickup at Gurley and Montezuma streets in Prescott.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part 2 of a two-part series involving police pursuits and how local departments approach them safely.

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Three people were killed in this Jan. 26, 2001, fiery crash in downtown Prescott when a stolen car Prescott Valley police were chasing T-boned into a pickup at Gurley and Montezuma streets in Prescott.

On January 26, 2001, a stolen SUV being pursued by Prescott Valley police officers went into Prescott, and, at the intersection of Gurley and Montezuma streets, crashed into a small pickup truck, killing its driver and two passengers.

PV police spotted the stolen Nissan Pathfinder at a Circle K on Robert Road at about 12:45 a.m.

As one officer approached the SUV, the driver, Jesus Peralta, 23, put it in reverse, came out of a parking space, and drove straight toward the officer, who fired at Peralta, striking him twice, once in the chest and once in the arm.

That wasn’t enough to stop him, though: Peralta hit the officer with the SUV. The officer was not seriously injured.

The SUV broke through a chain-link fence, and ended up heading toward Prescott at 100 miles an hour on Highway 69 with four Prescott Valley officers in pursuit.

The chase went on until Peralta got into downtown Prescott, seven minutes after he left the Circle K parking lot. There, he crashed into the Ford Ranger pickup, killing Evan F. Spencer, 18; Daniel Kamholz, 18; and Wylld Skye Ferro, 25. They were headed home after shooting some pool.

The two vehicles erupted in flames.

Peralta was flown to John C. Lincoln Hospital in north Phoenix with serious injuries.

When he recovered, Peralta pleaded guilty to three counts of reckless manslaughter, unlawful flight, and other charges. Superior Court Judge Howard Hinson gave him a 36.5 year prison sentence in December 2001.

The Town of Prescott Valley later settled a lawsuit brought by the families of those killed, who claimed police were negligent in their pursuit, for $2.65 million, far less than the $115 million they had originally asked.

Ivan Legler, the Town’s attorney, who was there in 2001, said newly-appointed Police Chief Dan Schatz “worked to review and revise the flight pursuit policy along with other policies” in the aftermath of the crash.

Previously, all police policies had to be reviewed and voted on by the Town Council, but Schatz suggested that most policies –except for some high-risk policies – be adopted and revised by his office, and the council agreed.

Later in 2002, the council “tightened up the circumstances under which a pursuit would occur and beefed up the involvement of supervisory personnel in initiating and ending pursuits,” Legler said.

Another change, Deputy Police Chief James Edelstein said, was that police dispatching was consolidated at the Prescott Regional Communications Center.

At the time of the pursuit, PVPD dispatchers worked out of their own office in Prescott Valley, which led to a delay in contacting Prescott Police to warn them.

But now, “the dispatcher for Prescott Valley … can just turn their head and say, ‘Hey, Prescott Valley’s headed into your jurisdiction – they’ve got a high-speed pursuit,’ and then Prescott would have more time to prepare … whatever measures they could to divert (the suspect) away from those kinds of highly-populated areas, like the downtown Prescott area,” he said.

See Part One: Tactics used when suspect flees

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