Dayton Unit NAACP wants stiffer penalties for people who prompt police pursuits

JEFFERSON TWP. — A deadly police pursuit this week has prompted the local NAACP unit to push state lawmakers to draft legislation that stiffens criminal charges against people whose decision to flee from law enforcement ends in a fatality.

>> RELATED: Man is killed in crash caused by police pursuit

Dayton Unit NAACP President Dr. Derrick Foward said the organization wants lawmakers to use the “full weight of the law. You need to make sure you’re doing everything to hold this young lady accountable” for what happened to Colby Ross, 35, who was killed Monday in a collision on U.S. 35 in Jefferson Twp. that occurred at the end of a police pursuit.

The young lady Foward was referring to is Melissa Hutchins, 50, of Dayton. She was driving and refused to stop after driving off from Butler Twp. police in a construction zone on I-75, then sped away a second time when Montgomery County Sheriff’s deputies saw her three hours later.

Hutchins lost control of the SUV she was driving, but continued through a red light on West Third Street at U.S. 35. That’s where she hit Ross’s convertible, causing a collision that forced him into a pickup truck. He was ejected and died of his injuries. Hutchins was not in the Montgomery County Jail, according to a check of the online roster Thursday night. Whether she has been charged is not clear.

“Everybody involved hasn’t been the same since last night when this occurred,” Sheriff Rob Streck said. “We can’t feel the pain that the family and friends do in this senseless, tragic crash.”

The pain the sheriff speaks of is why the Dayton Unit NAACP intends to press state lawmakers for laws related to police pursuits that carry heavier penalties.

Generally, the basic offense of fleeing or eluding is considered a first-degree misdemeanor in Ohio, although fleeing or eluding also can be a felony under some circumstances, according to criminal defense law firms throughout Ohio. A conviction could bring penalties that range from up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

“We’re going to work with our legislators to come up with the legislation to deal with the individuals who cause death through the fleeing process,” he said, noting the Dayton Unit also is working on its own task force to monitor internal investigative reports law enforcement agencies write up after every pursuit.

The branch of the national civil rights organization also intends to review the pursuit policies of every jurisdiction in the Dayton area, “to see how they come together if they even come together,” said David Fox, criminal justice chair, Dayton Unit NAACP.

There are as many as 24 law enforcement agencies in the Dayton area, he said.

News Center 7 and whio.com checked and found that area law enforcement agencies have strict or no-chase policies because of how dangerous pursuits can be.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that police pursuit crashes kill one person every day in the United States. The NHTSA recommends that law enforcement officers chase only under two conditions:

* If the suspect is connected to a violent crime

* If officers believe the person is a threat and could commit more crimes.

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