SOMERVILLE, MASS. (WHDH) - A call at 4 a.m. changed Jonathan Farris’ life.

“It was an emergency room hospital doctor who told us that Paul had been killed in a car accident,” Farris said recalling that fatal night in May 2007.

His 23-year-old son was minutes away from his Somerville destination when a black SUV crashed into his taxi. The crash killed Paul and the taxi driver.

“By far the worst thing that could possibly happen to a parent,” Farris said.

Paul was a musician and had just graduated from Tufts University. His girlfriend Katelyn Hoyt was also in the cab and was seriously injured.

“I had a shattered pelvis, broken sternum, broken ribs, broken wrist and a traumatic brain injury,” Hoyt recalled.

She had to relearn to walk and had to slowly gain her memories back.

“I didn’t remember who he was and then I did and then all these memories flooded back; terrible and awesome and a lot of depression. A lot of sadness but a lot of happiness too to have known him and to love him,” Hoyt said remembering Paul.

Farris and Hoyt’s grief turned to anger when they learned that a Massachusetts State trooper chased the SUV because the driver failed to stop after an illegal U-turn.

“A lot of anger, a lot of why? Why? Why? You’re going to get him, just let him go. Criminals continue to commit crimes, they are going to get caught,” Hoyt said.

“Is that worth Paul’s life? Is that worth Walid’s life; the cab driver? Is that worth everything that Kate had to go through?” Farris questioned. “No. Hell no. It isn’t.”

Shortly after, Farris began learning about police pursuit policies.

“If Paul had been killed because they were pursing someone for a violent felony, they shot somebody, they raped somebody, they’d done something really horrible, at least that would have made sense. It wouldn’t change my life… but it would make sense,” Farris said.

Nearly 17 years later, he is still advocating for departments to strengthen their policies to better balance the risk vs. the chase.

“This happens to people every single day throughout the United States and in fact it’s not really getting better, it’s getting worse,” Farris said. “We’re seeing more and more pursuits that in our opinion really shouldn’t be occurring for misdemeanor traffic violations. That’s how Paul was killed, for an illegal U-turn.”

Since Paul and Katelyn’s accident in 2007, more than 5,500 people have died from police pursuits across the country, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). More than 60 have died in Massachusetts and a majority of them were innocent bystanders, based on NHTSA’s data.

“Pursuits are a very risky business,” said Chuck Wexler, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) executive director. “The police officers have died, the suspects have died and third parties have died.”

Wexler’s organization worked with the federal government and police officials across the country on a report regarding police chases. The Department of Justice released the report last fall that recommended officers only chase drivers who have committed violent crimes and if there is an immediate threat to the public.

“We are not advocating ending pursuits. There are situations that justify pursuit,” Wexler explained. “We’re just saying if you are going to get involved in a pursuit you better make sure it’s worth the risk for everyone.”

7 Investigates looked into policies of local police departments. Some agencies like Framingham, Braintree and Springfield’s policies all mention limiting chases to drivers connected with felonies.

However, the Massachusetts State Police (MSP) still allow troopers to chase drivers for lesser crimes.

7 Investigates obtained data from the state police that shows between 2018-2022 an average of 64% of pursuits began with a traffic or civil violation. In 2022, only 13% of pursuits began over a felony, according to the state data.

“We have a rigorous pursuit policy in place that governs when and how we pursue suspect vehicles. Further, a commissioned officer in the Troop where the pursuit is occurring authorizes and assumes command and control of every pursuit in real time, continually monitoring such factors as speed, traffic volume, and density of the surrounding area to determine whether the pursuit should proceed or be terminated,” a spokesperson for MSP said in a statement.

State data shows six people have been injured during MSP chases between 2018-2022. Around 14% of the chases resulted in an accident during those five years, according to MSP data.

The state agency does not plan on changing their policy to match the federal recommendations. A spokesperson said MSP is “confident in the rigor and propriety” of their current policy.

Farris said he’s not surprised that most MSP pursuits begin over traffic or civil violations. He believes the data matches other state agencies across the country.

“It’s back to let’s get angry because it’s a poor policy; it’s a weak policy,” he said.

Farris believes change needs to come from a national level, but isn’t sure how realistic or soon that action could come. Still, he tries to remain optimistic and advocates for stricter policies nationwide.

“I think if I help maybe something will get seen and maybe someone will make a decision in their agency and maybe we’ll save a life,” Farris said. “If I save one in my whole lifetime, then that’s a good thing.”

Hoyt wished more people were frustrated by the policies of some departments.

“I don’t think many people understand the frustration unless they are impacted by it, while we are… every day we’re affected by it,” Hoyt said.

(Copyright (c) 2024 Sunbeam Television. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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