Man dies in accident after police pursuit

Published 11:15 pm Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Suffolk Police are investigating a fatal motorcycle accident that occurred early Wednesday morning after a short police pursuit.

Jon S. Christenson, 27, of the 1000 block of Rabbit Run in Chesapeake, died in the accident.

Police were notified of an alleged assault that occurred in the roadway at the intersection of North Main Street and Godwin Boulevard about 2:35 a.m. According to the victim of that assault, he had been involved in a verbal altercation with Christenson at a convenience store in Norfolk, according to city spokeswoman Debbie George.

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Christenson then followed him to Suffolk, driving recklessly along the way, George said.

After the assault, the description of the motorcycle and direction of travel were broadcast. An officer spotted the motorcycle in the 3400 block of Godwin Boulevard.

According to Police Chief Thomas Bennett, the motorcycle was traveling at a high rate of speed when it passed the officer. The officer pulled onto the roadway and activated his lights and sirens, but cut them off within about 10 or 15 seconds, Bennett said, when he realized there was no possibility of catching the suspect at that speed.

“I don’t believe the officer ever actually got up to high speeds,” George said. “I think the officer accelerated, then realized the suspect was pulling away. It just was not safe.”

After discontinuing the pursuit, Bennett said, the officer continued driving to the 4100 block of Godwin Boulevard, where he found the motorcycle had been involved in an accident and was on fire. Christenson was located a short distance from the motorcycle. He died at the scene.

According to the police department’s pursuit policy, officers are permitted to initiate a pursuit only in a limited number of situations, including if the driver is operating the vehicle in a “flagrantly reckless manner” prior to the pursuit.

That means, according to the policy, that the driver has collided with another vehicle, is causing other drivers to take evasive action to avoid a collision or is driving in excess of 20 miles per hour over the speed limit or in excess of 80 mph regardless of the speed limit.

According to Bennett, Wednesday’s pursuit followed the policy because the motorcycle driver was traveling at excessive speeds.

The officer called the pursuit off himself upon realizing that the possibility of apprehension was minimal, Bennett said. Officers take that into account when deciding whether to continue a pursuit, as well as other factors such as the time of day, weather conditions and amount of traffic.

By the time the crash occurred, the motorcycle was so far ahead that he was out of sight of the officer, said Bennett, who already has reviewed video of the chase from the officer’s patrol car.

Bennett changed the pursuit policy about a year ago during an overhaul of all the department’s policies. It now is more restrictive than it used to be in terms of when an officer is allowed to pursue a suspect, he said.

Police still are investigating both the assault and accident, George said.

This is the second fatal police pursuit in less than eight months in Suffolk. In September, Wesley Gardner Allen was pronounced dead at the scene when he wrecked his pickup truck on White Marsh Road. He had failed to stop after an officer attempted to arrest him for escaping from house arrest. In that incident, the officer also had cut off his lights and sirens shortly into the pursuit but continued driving in the same direction as the suspect.