Family of couple killed in high-speed chase calls for change

Sean Coffey Image
Thursday, May 30, 2024
Family of couple killed in high-speed chase calls for change
"After the shock wore off, it was anger."

HARNETT COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- For the very first time, the ABC11 I-Team is hearing from the family of a Minnesota couple killed last year in a high-speed chase in Harnett County -- gone haywire.

That crash, which occurred in Spring Lake, killed Brian and Patricia Finch and also left a Harnett County Sheriff's Deputy hospitalized. The deputy is now facing charges of involuntary manslaughter, after he collided with the couple in pursuit of another suspect, traveling more than 75 miles per hour.

"I'm sitting here, and I'm thinking of my Aunt and Uncle who were completely oblivious as to what's happened," said Tammie Ortiz, Brian Finch's niece.

It's been over a year since the chase crash that killed Ortiz's aunt and uncle, but she says the pain and anger still linger.

"After the shock wore off, it was anger. A lot of anger. Like, why?" she said.

Ortiz said her aunt and uncle never had time to react to what was happening and wishes the deputy involved had exercised more caution.

Kevin LeTarte, the deputy involved in the chase crash, is now charged with involuntary manslaughter and faces another court date in June. A lawyer for LeTarte declined to comment on the ongoing case but shared LeTarte's condolences with the Finch family and called the situation "tragic".

Tammie believes it didn't need to play out the way it did.

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"We have cars that are registered. They're registered under names. If you can get a license plate number, why can't you go back and search that car down the road," she said.

ABC11 Data Team analysis finds that since 2013, at least 50 people in North Carolina were killed during police chases, including at least five who were not part of the pursuit. An ABC11 I-Team investigation further found that the legality of law enforcement chases in North Carolina largely boils down to the discretion of the officer or deputy involved. If in the moment, they believe the risks of letting the suspect go outweigh the risks of a chase -- they're largely protected by law.

Tammie said, that in the wake of personal tragedy, she believes too many people on the road are at risk for such a broad discretion-based policy. That's something she said she now thinks about every time she's behind the wheel.

"I am definitely more aware of it. And I know of a lot of times when I'm at that intersection that goes through my head," she said.

ABC11 obtained the Harnett County Sheriff's Deputy pursuit policy, which states, "the primary responsibility of the deputy initiating the pursuit is the apprehension of the suspect without unreasonable danger to him/herself or others." The policy also outlines safe distances between cars during pursuits, warnings about intersections, and other guidelines.