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Sat, July 20

Tragic chase suspect deserves no deals

The man who faces charges in one of the worst traffic tragedies in this area's history got his first day in court Tuesday.

Police say Juan Peralta was at the wheel of a fleeing, stolen sport utility vehicle that on Jan. 26 tried to run down two police officers in Prescott Valley then fled into Prescott to collide with a pickup and kill the three young restaurant workers in it.

He appeared via video camera from the county jail before Judge Thomas Lindberg to answer to charges that include three counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault against a police officer, plus one count each of auto theft, felony flight and felony criminal damage.

Peralta pleaded not guilty to all counts.

If this case goes to trial, and it should, it falls to the state to prove that Peralta was at the wheel of the sport utility vehicle reported stolen from the Prescott Country Club when the attacks on the police officers, the resultant chase and deadly collision took place.

This case certainly will be a litmus test for Yavapai County's new County Attorney Sheila Polk, who ran on a promise of being tough on crime. Even idle talk of a plea bargain shouldn't come up in this case. This case should go all the way.

No matter who the courts hold accountable, it's obvious the individual who took the sport utility from in front of the owner's home did so casually, as though he thought stealing what he wants was an entitlement. Evidence exists that when the police saw the stolen vehicle at a Prescott Valley convenience store, the driver and an accomplice hadn't stopped off for a super-sized drink, which probably explains the violent reaction to the police officers' approach.

Reporter Gail Kenny, who covered the hearing, described Peralta as a frightened young man. Well he should be.

The person found guilty in this tragedy should pay a penalty that makes it very clear to anyone else who thinks it's cool to steal a vehicle and try to outrun the police isn't worth the consequences.

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