Police pursuit posed 'risk', investigation finds

By Staff Reporter

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The scene on Tayforth Rd last year in which Calum Meyer died after being pursued by police.
The scene on Tayforth Rd last year in which Calum Meyer died after being pursued by police.

An investigation into an incident last year where Whanganui man Calum Meyer died while fleeing police has found parts of the pursuit posed an undue risk to officers and members of the public.

Mr Meyer, 25, was in a car chase on May 7, which ended when he lost control of his vehicle and hit a truck parked on the side of the road. He died instantly.

It was later found he had meth and cannabis in his system at the time.

A report from the Independent Police Conduct Authority said there were three stages of pursuit, and that the second and third pursuits should not have started.

The chase began when police noticed the car and suspected Mr Meyer was driving it while disqualified.

They tried to pull Mr Meyer over but he "surged forward and sped off" towards St Johns Hill, eventually hitting a cyclist who "was thrown into the air and landed on the road in front of a parked car", the report said.

Police abandoned pursuit.

Another patrol car was stationary on Great North Road when they saw Mr Meyer driving towards them and pointing his car "directly at them".

"Officer D said it was as though Mr Meyer was 'lining us up'."

They pulled the patrol car further to the left so Mr Meyer could pass, then began a pursuit, which they abandoned when Mr Meyer began swerving towards oncoming cars and driving on the wrong side of the road.

Some time later, another officer tried to deploy road spikes near Westmere School, but Mr Meyer saw the spikes and swerved onto a grass verge to avoid them.

"The car began fishtailing and as Mr Meyer tried to control the car, he overcorrected and drove off the road into a ditch," the report said.

Despite ending up in the ditch, Mr Meyer was able to get back onto the road and drive away.

Another officer decided to pursue him as he was worried about the potential harm Mr Meyer posed to others, and thought the car might break down following the crash and Mr Meyer could end up stealing one of the cars parked outside the school.

The officer soon decided to turn off his lights and sirens and follow at a slower speed due to Mr Meyer's "degree of recklessness in his driving".

The officer did not pull over as required under the fleeing driver policy when a pursuit is abandoned.

He told the Authority he believed Mr Meyer was an "extreme risk" and to pull over to the side of the road would have been "impractical". He wanted to keep Mr Meyer in sight.

He believed his backing off had the desired effect, as Mr Meyer appeared to decrease his speed and moved back onto the correct side of the road, the report said.

Two more officers set up road spikes across Tayforth Road, but as they were doing so, a truck drove up. One of the officers said that although he was concerned about the truck, he decided against waving it on or notifying CentComms due to time restraints.

When Mr Meyer drove down the road, he lost control of his car before hitting the spikes, and crashed into the parked truck.

The report said the second and third pursuits were "essentially in accordance with current police policy", but the Authority did not think either of them should have been initiated.

"At no time, from the collision with the cyclist to the fatal crash, did his risk to the public reduce whilst he was being pursued by police . . . there was good reason to believe that a continued pursuit would exacerbate that behaviour."

The Authority said it was uncommon for fleeing drivers to voluntarily pull over.

They recommended police amend the fleeing driver policy, so that police should no recommence an abandoned pursuit where the dangerous driving has arisen during the pursuit unless the risk posed by the driving behaviour will be "significantly reduced" during the new pursuit or a further pursuit is likely to stop the fleeing vehicle.

It also recommended it be amended that authorisation to recommence the pursuit must be given by the pursuit controller before the dispatcher provides the pursuit warning, which is: "If there is any unjustified risk to any person you are to abandon pursuit immediately."

Districts Assistant Commissioner Allan Boreham said police accepted the Authority's findings.

"Police do not want to see anybody lose their lives in this way and we extend our sympathies to Mr Meyer's family for their loss," he said.

"However, as noted in the IPCA report, Mr Meyer demonstrated by his actions that day that he was prepared to risk his life and the lives of others to avoid being caught by police."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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