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Two Deaths in Two Months Involving KCK Police Pursuits

A police chase in Kansas City, Kansas last Wednesday left eight-year-old Jasmine Rodriguez dead and her 35-year-old mother, Jacqueline Ramirez, injured along with two other children riding in their Dodge Caravan.

The impact of the two cars colliding at 63rd and Leavenworth Road left fuel stains soaked into the asphalt road. Glass shards littered the side of the street indicating where the van ended up after being rammed by the Chevrolet Impala driven by 27-year-old Tyrone Murphy, Jr., of Kansas City, Kansas.

According to the KCK Police report, Murphy was stopped at 8:33:39 at 63rd and Parallel Parkway for not wearing a seat belt. Upon approaching the vehicle, the officer asked the driver for his license. The suspect in the vehicle fled the scene at 8:34:47. At 8:35:01 the officer asks permission to pursue northbound on 63rd Street. At 8:35:17 the officer advises of speeds, minimal to no vehicle or pedestrian traffic, weather conditions and road conditions. The pursuit is approved at 8:35:29.

At 8:35:36 the officer encounters an injury accident at the intersection of 63rd and Leavenworth Road. The total time from car stop to accident is 1 minute and 57 seconds. In that short time period, a young life ended.

Wyandotte County District Attorney Jerome Gorman announced Friday that Murphy was charged with First Degree Murder in connection with the death of eight-year-old Rodriguez.

The murder charge is based upon the theory of felony murder, where a person is killed during the commission of another offense that is designated by statute as an inherently dangerous felony. Murphy is also charged with possession of cocaine, eluding a police officer (felony) and three counts of aggravated battery arising from the injuries to the driver and two other juvenile passengers in the Caravan. Bond has been set at one million dollars.

After Rodriguez’s death, Police Chief Ellen Hanson announced that the police department would suspend pursuing anything that isn’t a serious felony.

Chief Hanson added that the Vehicle Pursuit Procedure would be reviewed. At the present time officers will only chase violent felons or those wanted for serious felonies. In the past, officers could pursue a chase if they stopped someone for a traffic violation.

“Deciding whether to let violators go is never easy. It is a very difficult situation. You have to consider the emotions, the practical parts, what goes into guiding officers that are out there in harm’s way,” said Hanson.

The Police Department released a statistics report that states from 2007 to 2013 there were a total of 2,614 vehicle pursuits in KCK. The reasons for pursuits are 60 percent for traffic violations, 10 percent for suspected criminal involvement, 9 percent for stolen vehicle, 8 percent for felony, 7 percent for misdemeanor and 6 percent for warrants.

Following the crash, authorities say that the children were properly buckled in their seats, but unfortunately, Jasmine died from the force of the crash.

This crash comes on the heels of another tragic police chase in KCK on February 17, 2014. At that time, 62-year-old Graciela Olivas was hit and killed by a suspect who was being chased by police after they spotted him in a known drug area.

The suspect, 28-year-old KCK resident Christopher Bradley Stewart, fled the scene and ran a stop sign at 34th Street and Shawnee Drive, before hitting Olivas’ car.

When Olivas’s family learned about a second death due to a police chase, they released the following statement.

“We are heartbroken for the family of Jasmine Rodriguez, another life lost to a KCK police chase. First it was our beloved mother, Graciela Olivas. Now less than two months later, an 8-year-old little girl. In both cases, KCK police were chasing a traffic offender. With our mother, the offender did not use his turn signal properly. With young Jasmine, the offender was pulled over for a seat belt violation. In both cases, innocent lives were needlessly endangered and taken from us too soon. We call on the city of KCK and the police department to immediately effect permanent changes to its policies on police chases and to retrain its officers on police chase protocol. This cannot happen again.”

The family has hired Lynn Johnson and Scott Nutter of the law firm of Shamberg, Johnson & Bergman to investigate the circumstances of their mother’s death during the February 17 chase.

Hanson did announce at a press conference that the department would temporarily change its pursuit policy in light of the two fatality accidents.
“When suspects cause the death of innocent parties, no matter if it is from fleeing or other situations, it is a concern of everyone. Our actions will show from this point and beyond, we do care about the safety of our citizens and our officers,” she said.

An emotional Hanson added, “After spending the day with my staff, the hearts of every man and woman on this police department are breaking for everyone that is involved. Our hearts are breaking for our fellow officer. Any time a police officer is involved in a situation like that, it has long term, very grave impact on them.”