The Hall County Sheriff's Office would like to respond to Kathy Ledford's May 5 letter, "High speed chases can put innocent motorists in danger."
The Sheriff's Office holds the public's welfare in the highest regard. From the most minor actions to major incidents, citizens' safety is first priority. The dilemma we face is finding the balance between aiding and protecting one member of the public while minimizing risk to others. It's sometimes a difficult task, but we make no excuses; the job is ours to do.
The letter mentioned a "high speed chase," when in fact the incident did not involve a chase of any sort. On April 30, a deputy was traveling southbound on U.S. 129 (Cleveland Highway) in response to a traffic accident with injuries on Limestone Parkway. In accordance with Sheriff's Office policy and state law, the deputy was using the patrol car's emergency lights and siren to negotiate traffic.
As the deputy passed Little River Park Road, he navigated around same-direction traffic and continued on. At the same time, a northbound vehicle quickly braked while yielding to the approaching patrol car and a motorcycle collided with the rear end of that vehicle.
The deputy was unaware of this accident, witnessed by Ms. Ledford, because his attention was fully focused on the area to the front of his patrol car and any potential hazards that may appear. To clarify a critical detail, Ms. Ledford wrote that the deputy entered into the oncoming traffic lane to pass cars. Along that stretch of highway, a continuous central turn lane runs for approximately two miles. The deputy did not have to enter the oncoming traffic lane to pass same-direction motorists who were yielding; he simply entered the unoccupied central turn lane. The deputy was in compliance with state law and Sheriff's Office policy.
Regarding the secondary crash, the Georgia State Patrol responded and conducted an investigation. As a result, the motorcycle driver was cited for following too closely. While that may seem like an unfair charge, it should be noted that drivers are required to follow from a safe distance. The presence of an emergency vehicle, operating in a lawful manner and with due regard for the safety of the public, is one of those traffic conditions and must be accounted for.
The Sheriff's Office would like to emphasize this was an unfortunate accident that occurred while a veteran deputy, acting in compliance with state law and departmental policy, was going to the aid of injured citizens. We are grateful that no one else was injured. All situations requiring the use of a vehicle's emergency equipment are closely monitored by supervisors, and any time the risk to the public outweighs the benefit of a more rapid arrival, our deputies are instructed to resume a normal driving response.
It's worth mentioning that emergency vehicle operation is one of the most dangerous tasks law enforcement officers undertake; more are killed annually in crashes than by any other means. We at the Hall County Sheriff's Office are acutely aware of the statistics, having lost one of our own in 2005.
As many officers will tell you, some of their most frightening and unpredictable experiences take place not while at the call, but while just trying to get there. And the bottom line is this: we fully realize that if we don't get there safely, we can't help anyone.
Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks
Hall County Sheriff's Office