Three young teenagers were killed early Monday when the carjacked vehicle they were riding in slammed into a tree after a police pursuit through north Minneapolis, officials say.
The chase began around 1:45 a.m. in the vicinity of N. Dowling and Logan avenues when officers spotted the teens riding in a vehicle that had been stolen by force from an elderly woman on Sunday morning, according to officials. The teens' names will be released in the coming days, pending the completion of autopsies.
The details of the carjacking incident weren't made public Monday afternoon, but officers across the city had been on alert over a recent spate of carjackings and robberies.
Lisa Clemons, founder of the violence prevention group A Mother's Love, confirmed that the teens were between the ages of 13 and 15, with one of the boys about to turn 16. She said she responded to the scene a few hours after the crash after receiving a frantic call from a friend, and immediately noticed a set of skid marks on the road, suggesting the driver tried to brake before the impact.
"The minute you hear the ages of the kids it's like, 'Are you kidding?' " Clemons said. "The images those families and community people will have for the rest of their lives — you talk about trauma. This sort of trauma is starting to become a community norm. How did we get here?"
An MPD spokesman said he couldn't discuss the crash because the case was now in the hands of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the state agency that investigates "critical incidents" such as police shootings. The spokesman, John Elder, said he didn't know whether the officers involved in the chase had been placed on leave.
He said that police tried to stop the vehicle, but that it sped off at a "high rate of speed," putting several blocks between itself and pursuing officers.
The fleeing vehicle later drove the wrong way on a one-way street, N. Emerson Avenue, before the driver lost control and crashed near N. 18th Avenue — a little over two miles south of where the chase started.
All three teens died at the scene. It was not clear whether anyone else was in the vehicle at the time of the pursuit. Elder said Police Chief Medaria Arradondo requested the BCA investigation after being briefed on the crash.
"People have wanted independent investigations into tragic incidents like this, and for that reason the BCA was called in," Arrodondo said Monday in an interview. Squad video of the pursuit has been turned over to the BCA, he said, while the State Patrol will assist with crash reconstruction efforts.
A message left for the BCA wasn't immediately returned Monday afternoon.
Monday's incident once again raised questions about when officers should and should not pursue a suspect.
Last year, the MPD joined the growing ranks of law enforcement agencies that are limiting pursuits of vehicles in all but the most serious crimes. In Minneapolis, officers may no longer initiate a pursuit or must terminate a pursuit in progress if it "poses an unreasonable risk to the officers, the public or passengers of the vehicle being pursued who may be unwilling participants."
As before, police must continuously weigh the "necessity for apprehension" against the risk to officers and the public but must now seek approval from a supervisor before continuing to chase.
Officers who flout the new policy could face discipline.
The new guidelines were adopted after a series of police chases that ended in injury or death.
A man fleeing state troopers crashed into a north Minneapolis playground in the summer of 2018, severely injuring three children who were playing on the swings. A few months later, a chase through south Minneapolis that reached speeds of 105 mph ended when a man in a stolen car broadsided a pickup truck outside Matt's Bar and killed three people, a crime for which he was later sentenced to more than 32 years in prison. And, last year, Jose Angel Madrid Salcido was killed when authorities say a 27-year-old man fleeing police after a suspected drug deal crashed into Salcido's vehicle.
State pursuit data show that the number of police pursuits was steadily climbing over the past three years.
And yet, a Star Tribune analysis of the data found that only 11% of the nearly 500 chases logged between 2016 and 2019 involved a felony-level offense. Nearly half the chases started after the motorist committed a traffic violation, and a third were for a stolen vehicle, according to the newspaper's analysis. About 28% of pursuits ended in a crash, a number that rose to 37% in cases involving auto theft.
Deaths are statistically rare, and injuries occur less than 10% of the time, the analysis found.
In a separate incident Sunday evening, a driver fleeing a State Patrol trooper crashed into a North Side apartment building and ruptured a natural gas line.
Troopers were pursuing a Volkswagen Touareg for a traffic violation on southbound I-94. The trooper called off the pursuit before the Volkswagen exited the freeway around 9:30 p.m.
The car continued at a "high rate of speed" after leaving the freeway before it crashed into the gas line and building at N. Lyndale and Aldrich avenues, the State Patrol said.
The 25-year-old driver was unhurt, but his passenger, a 29-year-old St. Paul woman, was taken to HCMC with noncritical injuries, officials said.