A Columbia officer died Nov. 7 after running a red light at 64 mph in a 30-mph zone and being hit by another officer while both were responding to a call. The other officer was injured, but no civilians were hurt – although they are more often the casualties in high-speed police crashes in South Carolina.
Stacy Case was responding to a report of gunfire in the Vista late that night. Her vehicle was struck by a car driven by University of South Carolina police Sgt. Allan Bolin, who was
traveling 76 mph. The crash sent Case’s vehicle off the road and into a curb, a mailbox, a concrete wall and palmetto trees. The two crashed at the intersection where Bolin had a green light and Case a red one.
Case’s fatal crash isn’t the only one involving high speeds that ended badly.
From 2010-14, 24 crashes involving law enforcement vehicles in South Carolina left someone dead, according to the S.C. Department of Public Safety. That’s almost five fatalities each year. Eleven of the 24 crashes involved police vehicles traveling faster than the speed limit.
Speed is one of three main factors in fatal officer-involved crashes, according to USC criminology professor Geoffrey Alpert, who has studied police chases extensively. The other factors are seat belt use and distractions.
“More cops get killed by cars than they do by bullets,” Alpert said.
Police speeding on the job becomes an especially dangerous issue in certain circumstances – such as in areas with a high concentration of college students, Alpert added.
“A lot of times, especially in a college town, kids are driving around windows up, radios blaring, and they don’t hear the sirens and don’t see emergency lights — and they don’t respond,” he said.
That same problem might have played a part in Case’s crash as both officers were using lights and sirens.
“At 60 miles an hour, you don’t have time (to adjust) anyway,” Alpert said. “Even if you could hear the siren, you may not know where it’s coming from and wouldn’t have time to react – and of course, if you have your siren on, you can’t hear the other siren.”
Such crashes aren’t just dangerous to the officers involved. Twenty of those 24 casualties were civilians.
As with officer-involved shootings, there currently is no national resource from which to draw information on officer-involved crashes, said Ken Novak, professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. But emergency vehicle usage is one of the top ways in which law enforcement actions can put the public at risk, second only to use-of-force situations, Novak added.
“In a democratic society, we want to demand police actions are something that we as citizens agree with,” he said. “If we’re not aware, or if we’re not collecting these types of information in a systematic way, we don’t have a clear picture of what the police do on the street.”
Novak said in high-speed pursuits, some departments require a supervisor to monitor the officers in the field and tell them when to stop the chase. “It’s just human nature that when you’re knee-deep in an adrenaline-filled circumstance, you may not always make the best decisions,” he said.
South Carolina law allows an officer to “exceed the maximum speed limit if he does not endanger life or property.”
“We abide by state law, which says an officer has the right to exceed the posted speed,” said Maj. Florence McCants with the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy. “Each agency has their own discretion how they perceive that and if they want to restrict that.”
Case’s speed violated a Columbia Police Department rule that only allows officers to travel at 20 mph above the speed limit, according to Police Chief Skip Holbrook.
Bolin’s actions did not violate USC policy, university spokesman Wes Hickman said. However, the university began a review of its emergency vehicle response policy shortly after that crash. The review was still underway as of Dec. 22, according to Jeff Stensland, another USC spokesman.
2010-14 Fatal Officer-Involved Crashes By County
▪ Anderson: 2
▪ Beaufort: 2
▪ Calhoun: 1
▪ Clarendon: 2
▪ Dillon: 1
▪ Florence: 1
▪ Greenville: 3
▪ Lancaster: 2
▪ Laurens: 1
▪ Marion: 1
▪ Orangeburg: 1
▪ Pickens: 1
▪ Sumter: 3
▪ Williamsburg: 2
▪ York: 1
SOURCE: S.C. Department of Public Safety
* DPS officials emphasize that their numbers are based on vehicles designated for police use. That listing does not specify that the driver was on duty at the time of the crash nor does it specify if the officer was driving.