Police pursuit policies under scrutiny after deadly Harnett County crash involving deputy

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Wednesday, March 8, 2023
Police pursuit policies under scrutiny after deadly Harnett Co. crash
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The Harnett County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday that it is conducting an internal investigation into the crash involving a deputy that led to death of 2 people.

SPRING LAKE, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Harnett County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday that it is conducting an internal investigation into the crash involving a deputy that left two people dead.

The incident happened Friday just after 2 p.m. on NC Highway 210 at the Ray Road intersection in Spring Lake.

The Highway Patrol said the deputy was engaged in a pursuit on NC 210 south when he collided with a truck driven by Brian Anthony Finch, who was making a turn at the Ray Road intersection.

Finch. 65, and Patricia Finch, 64, of East Gulf Lake, Minnesota, were killed.

"Our thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathies are with the family of Mr. and Mrs. Finch," Harnett County Sheriff Wayne Coats said in a release. "This is an extremely tragic accident."

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The deputy, K. Letarte, a K-9 handler with the Harnett County Sheriff's Office, was taken to a hospital for treatment of his injuries. He is recuperating at home, the sheriff's office said Tuesday.

The sheriff's office added that "many facts and circumstances are still unclear about this incident" but the early stage of the investigation indicates that Letarte was attempting to make a traffic stop on a vehicle. The Highway Patrol is investigating and the sheriff's office said its review is to determine whether policy was being adhered to by Letarte.

According to Harnett's policy, deputies should consider speed and the public's safety when deciding to initiate or continue a chase.

It remains to be seen whether the policy was violated.

Law enforcement pursuit policies

ABC11 requested policies from a number of other agencies. They're mostly the same, although some do have stricter rules.

North Carolina Highway Patrol has more than 1,600 troopers, who cover nearly 80,000 miles of roadways. That's' more than any other state except Texas.

Highway Patrol caps troopers to 55 mph when pursuing someone and executing a certain maneuver to stop the vehicle.

The Fayetteville Police Department said that in general, officers do not engage in pursuits.

Raleigh's policy states that "a pursuit is justified only when the necessity of immediate apprehension outweighs the level of danger."

The Wake County Sheriff's Office said deputies need to factor in the initial violation, whether it's a traffic offense such as speeding or violent crime felonies, as well as the time of day and weather.

"It's fair to say the number of pursuits have increased in Wake County over the recent years," said Lt. Ronnie Carroll with the Wake County Sheriff's Office.

In Wake County, as well as other agencies including the Raleigh Police Department, a supervisor must be looped during the entire pursuit and will make the call to end it.

"It's a very tough decision because the general public is out there and we've got to be concerned about them, and the violators themselves and the deputies," said Carroll. "We're taking all this into consideration when we're making the decision if we allow a deputy to pursuit or disengage from that pursuit."

Letarte, 36, has worked for the sheriff's office since July 2017. He is on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

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