BURNSVILLE, Minn. - The State Patrol says two people are dead after a crash in Burnsville following a police chase Monday night, one of them an innocent mother of 5 who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Colonel Matt Langer of the MN State Patrol says the chain of events that led to the deadly incident began in Savage at 8:09 p.m. when the driver of a Chevy Astro van struck another vehicle and fled the scene. The victim called 911 and was able to provide a detailed description of the van and a license plate number, and officers in nearby communities were notified.
At 8:19 p.m. an Apple Valley Police officer noticed a vehicle being driven in an aggressive an dangerous manner, and then learned that the van had been involved in the Savage hit-and-run. When the officer attempted to pull the driver of the van over he fled at a high rate of speed. Apple Valley Police Chief Jon Rechtzigel says two other Apple Valley squads joined in the pursuit, with one or two Burnsville squads joining as the van sped into their city.
Approximately eight miles after the pursuit began it ended when the suspect vehicle crashed into a Toyota SUV on County Road 5 at 131st Street in Burnsville, killing the innocent female driver. The driver of the fleeing vehicle also died in the crash. At this point investigators are still trying to determine his identity.
A cousin tells KARE 11 that the innocent motorist that was killed is Leticia Ocampo, a mother of five who was originally from Honduras. Melvin Montoya tells reporter Lou Raguse that he got the news of Ocampo's death Monday night around 10 p.m. "I'm still swallowing it... still," Montoya said. "My family is destroyed over the news."
The victim's cousin says Ocampo's father lives in Minnesota, while her mother remains in Honduras. Montoya spoke with the victim's father Tuesday morning, and says he is broken up over Ocampo's death.
"She was a great person man. She was a good mother," Montoya said. "Right now man, the whole family is really really bad."
Early indications are that the involved officers from both Apple Valley and Burnsville were all acting within their department's official pursuit policies, but the State Patrol investigation will determine that. Rechtzigel told reporters that officers and supervisors have discretion during pursuits, and can call them off due to road conditions, high traffic levels and other variables.
When asked if the fatal crash would have occurred had his officers backed off and terminated the pursuit, Chief Rechtzifel said simply, "I can't offer an opinion on that right now."
According to Apple Valley Police policy, there are standards to consider when chasing a suspect, including:
1. Is the need to immediately catch the suspect more important than the risk created by the pursuit?
2. Do the dangers created by the pursuit exceed the danger posed by allowing the suspect to escape?
Colonel Langer told reporters that it appears the officers were a ways back from the fleeing vehicle, and may not have even seen the collision between the two vehicles. He says the investigation will be thorough, and understands the questions that come with a fatal crash that follows pursuit by law enforcement.
"In a lot of these incidents there's scrutiny all around, as there should be in cases where people are killed in our communities, but make no mistake, this pursuit was avoidable," Langer insisted. "This double fatality crash was avoidable, all it took was for the driver of that Chevy van to stop both in Savage and Apple Valley. Had that driver made the wise decision to stop, everything that we're talking about would have been prevented."