Blaming police who weren’t at the wheel of killer car
IT’S understandable that the families of those killed in the weekend’s multiple fatality in Canberra would want to blame police. They might be able to answer for their actions.
In the outrage over another police pursuit which has ended in tragedy, it seems the person who gets the least attention is the serial car thief who started the chain of events in the first place.
But I’ll repeat – it’s understandable. He can’t answer to the grieving families.
The exact speed at which Justin Williams was driving the stolen Mazda when he ran a red light, scything into a small car, may never be known. But the pictures say he was gunning it.
A coroner will investigate the circumstances in which Scott Oppelaar, 33, his girlfriend Samantha Ford, 29, and their three-month-old baby Brody – were killed. Brody was just three months old.
Williams died in hospital soon afterwards. His passenger, Skye Webbe, is in a coma in hospital. It has since emerged that less than a year ago, Williams himself was in a coma having crashed another stolen car.
The families of both Oppelaar and Webbe have blamed police, questioning why officers chose to pursue Williams.
The clear implication is that police are responsible for the tragedy and not Williams.
The matter of the blame that should lie with him has been lost, partly because of the unspoken rule in the debate on road fatalities which is never to speak ill of the dead.
It’s the same unspoken rule that stops police declaring alcohol was involved when a car runs off the road and into a wall late at night when there were no other cars around. Bad enough that a family has lost someone – don’t impugn their memory by declaring publicly they had decided to drink and drive.
Here’s what relatives of the victims of the Canberra crash have had to say:
Mr Oppelaar’s cousin, Jason Kelly, said: ‘‘I purely blame police for it. He’s getting chased and that’s what young people do. They get scared and they take off,’’ he told reporters.
Mr Oppelaar’s sister, Nicki, was also angry. ‘‘My brother is dead now because the police chased this car to the point where he didn’t want to stop.’‘
Mr Oppelaar’s brother, Chris Mills, said: ‘‘You have to ask who’s responsible ... in some part it’s the driver for doing the speeds he was doing, but mostly it comes down to the coppers ... what good’s a stolen car?’‘
Pursuits have been a hot topic in NSW, following a high-speed chase on New Year’s Eve that ended with a 19-month-old girl being killed after a collision involving suspected robbers fleeing police. The state’s police commissioner Andrew Scipione has defending his officers again today against allegations that they endangered others by chasing a stolen car.
Sydney’s Daily Telegraph last week launched a campaign - backed by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and other public figures – calling on drivers to take a pledge to drive safely.
This is a recognition that there is a limit to what legislation can achieve on road safety. There’s only so much you can do to discourage people from risky or criminal behaviour on the roads.
Yes, when it results in a death – or at any time – police must be willing to answer every possible question about why they chased a car. Yes, they must take the safety of other drivers into account.
But at the same time, is it reasonable to have a policy that says when cops see a speeding vehicle in the middle of the night, they should do nothing?
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