Meet Esther Seoanes

Esther Seoanes & James Williford on their wedding day
It is so important to me that I provide the best possible care for my patients, to improve their overall health with the goal of restoring them to their pre-acute illness condition. My job is demanding, but restoring patients to their baseline health provides me with great pleasure and fulfillment. I take my inspiration from my late husband, James Williford. I feel blessed to help others, and I believe that is why I was given the gift of my husband. James was an amazingly helpful, caring, and compassionate person. James and I met at a local trauma hospital, where he dedicated 15 years of service. He was known as a man who got things done, who established meaningful rapports with patients as a devoted healthcare servant. He taught me through his selfless actions to help others without expecting anything in return. On June 15, 2012, a driver fleeing the police struck James’s car as he was on his way to deposit a contribution to a healthcare fund for a former co-worker. In the immediate aftermath of his death, I searched for meaning in my changed life and for an understanding of how my husband—a law-abiding citizen—could be killed on his way to the bank. In my search, I discovered PursuitSAFETY and learned that pursuits were an enormous problem and far too common in our country. Prior to the crash, I would watch the Fast and the Furious movies, enjoying the glamorization of pursuits in film and on television, not realizing the horror of the reality. Over the past five years, I have become a different person, one who realizes the grave dangers of pursuits. I have learned that they are shockingly hazardous, killing hundreds of innocent victims. My husband was killed because a man stole a truck from the local mall and then was chased at speeds of up to 100 mph by law enforcement. Many questions filled my mind, the most important being: Was there a better way to apprehend the suspect, one which didn’t involve chasing him through a high-traffic area with numerous pedestrians crossing the streets? It is because of James that I have studied police pursuits and educated myself on the dangers that they involve, learning that, too frequently, police officers and innocent victims are killed in these pursuits. This is why I am here today, talking to you: I don’t want your loved ones to be killed. Our aim at PursuitSAFETY is to decrease the number of innocent victims killed in police pursuits, by bringing awareness and education to law enforcement and to the general public. Through a cultural shift toward a safety paradigm, we can keep citizens safer and protect officers, too. (Esther Seoanes serves as PursuitSAFETY’s executive director. Her post about “Pursuit Policy Types: Restrictive, Discretionary, or Discouraging” will next Thursday, January 18th.)

If You Choose to Pursue, Do So Safely

By Officer David Pienta We all want to get the bad guy. We want to make the arrest. We want to be first on the scene. However, in this video of an officer-involved chase/shooting, I see a lot of things done wrong. If the decision is made to continue with the pursuit, we can not afford to make mistakes. Mistakes can end up with injuries, deaths, expenses into the millions of dollars should a lawsuit come out of the situation. The initial call comes out as a man with a gun in a restaurant muttering to himself. For all we know, he is suicidal. They find him in his vehicle where he refuses to talk to officers, and the chase is on. Several things to note from the dash cam…
Officer David Pienta
  1. I saw at least one pedestrian nearly run over. The pursuit goes through a neighborhood as well as through a construction zone. Great weight should be given to such circumstances. Does the pursuit need to continue? Does the reward still outweigh the enhanced risk to the civilians in these areas?
  2. I lost count of stop lights and stop signs that officer did not stop for. Some, he did not even slow down. We must take the time to clear intersections. At this speed, an accident would be disastrous.
    “Lights and sirens are not a pass on traffic control devices. Any collision arising out of going through an intersection in which the surrounding traffic has the right-of-way, you are at fault should a crash occur.”
  3. The suspect vehicle squeezes between 2 civilian cars and makes contact with both vehicles. The officer follows and attempts to squeeze though initially and also makes contact with the civilian cars, but does not stop to check on them after he makes contact. Instead, we hear on the recorded dash camera that he curses them out and calls them names. Remember, dash cam video is public record. These people did not intend to be hit by the suspect. They most certainly did not expect to get hit by the police officer. I can only speak for the law in my home state of Florida. If you are involved in an accident, you can not leave the scene. There is also no reason to stay in pursuit if there are multiple officers still in the pursuit. Someone should have stayed with the drivers impacted by both vehicles. The officer should have never even attempted to squeeze in between those two vehicles.
  4. After getting stuck behind 2 cars, this officer becomes about 4th or 5th in line in the chase. This officer was determined to be back as the first in line. He actually passes other officers in the chase. At one point, going down the wrong side of the road so he can leap all the other officers and get back in the one spot. Why is it so important that this officer has to put his life at stake, driving down the oncoming lanes of travel, exponentially increasing the risk of an accident when there are officers right behind the suspect? This risky move was uncalled for and not needed. We need to make sure we keep our ego and adrenaline in check. When the adrenaline rises it harder to make well-educated decisions. We need to trust our partners that are in position to do the job like we know how to do.
  5. If a shooting occurs, make sure to take into consideration the background. In this incident, look at the ground. There are ricochets all over the place. People are in the backdrop of the shooting lane towards the suspect. I am not saying do not shoot if you face a threat. But you need to make sure you account for every round. You need to protect the innocent people from the incident as well. Hit the range at least once a month. Do drills to get the heart rate up and then shoot. Get some sim guns and do some force on force. Getting rounds off fast may interrupt the bad guy’s thought process. But rounds that do not hit not only do not do any good to help the situation, but they also endanger those caught in the scene in the line of fire. Practice, practice, practice.
Summary: I know chases get the adrenaline flowing. Do not get tunnel vision. Avoid auditory exclusion. Slow things down. Is there a chopper available? Can we position cars not in the pursuit into the general area without driving fast? Do we have technology that can be used to track the driver while ending the pursuit? Driving 110 MPH not only endangers you, but it also endangers other drivers, pedestrians, the suspect. Pursuits, due to a very high risk to everyone involved, should be a last resort. If we decide to pursue, we must certainly remember to clear intersections before going through them. Just because the suspect goes through the intersection does not mean you can. There are many distractions in cars today. Insulation has also improved. Combine that insulation with the radio and/or phone and civilians will not hear the officers coming. It is up to the officers to make sure that if the choice to pursue is made, it is done as safely as possible. Lights and sirens are not a pass on traffic control devices. Any collision arising out of going through an intersection in which the surrounding traffic has the right-of-way, you are at fault should a crash occur. At the point of this chase, all we know is “a man with a gun.” He has not hurt anyone as of that point. Make sure the risk to the public and officers is worth the actions you are taking.