Chase boy arrested: Scalped house family comes home
There has been an arrest in the case of the 85mph chase that resulted in a stolen car scalping a house on Rugby Road. About two months after the summertime incident, a 17-year-old city student was arrested, according to Charlottesville spokesperson Ric Barrick, who also–- in response to a reporter's request–- released a tape of the chase, a 112-second video in which even the police car hits 85mph on the residential road.
In a related development, a work crew installed a guardrail Friday at the spot where the vehicle left the roadway to prevent such future dangerous aerobatics, but in so doing, the crew cut an underground gas line, causing a road detour lasting much of the morning.
Meanwhile, Friday, October 30 is also move-back day for architect Russell Skinner and his wife, Nura Yingling, an English teacher and Tandem School administrator. The couple lost their garage–- and nearly their lives–- in the August 7 incident.
"My pregnant daughter could have been here," says Yingling. "That's the kind of thing that keeps you up at night."
State law doesn't forbid police pursuits, nor does it require officers to obey traffic signals, but it does require the officer to activate lights and sirens, both of which are evident in the Rugby Road video.
Yingling, who hasn't yet seen the dashcam video, says she was initially told that the chase was curtailed; however the video shows the police hitting 74mph at Beta Bridge, 75 at University Circle, and 77 as the officer passes a 25mph speed limit sign on his way to a top speed of 85 near the intersection where the pursuee went airborne.
A Year 2000 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that such pursuits kill over 100 innocent bystanders every year. In August, a California couple lost all five of their children when a stolen car pursued by police rammed the family pickup truck.
Closer to home, Petersburg police became the target of two lawsuits in August after motorists died in a pair of 2008 pursuits at speeds lower than what happened on Rugby at 2:26am.
Charlottesville police Chief Longo, addressing the case in a letter accompanied by a copy of CPD pursuit policy, conceded that the pursuit raised a pair of concerns–- particularly the speed–- but that dry pavement, the late hour, and the absence of pedestrians weighed against letting the thief (even if the officer didn't know there was a thief at the time) speed away into the night.
"I find the officer’s actions to have been reasonable based on the totality of the circumstance," Longo wrote. "Had this occurred at 2:30 in the afternoon when traffic conditions were different, I may not have come to the same conclusion."
Yingling however, who serves as the director of Tandem's upper school, considers this chase a teaching moment of her own; and she finds the pursuit, conducted by Officer Jeremy Carper, unsafe.
"If he's been an officer for more than a few days," says Yingling, "he knows there's a house at the end of the hill."
Her husband said that he's learned that the 17-year-old suspect, as the absence of blood at the scene suggested, was completely uninjured despite hurtling through the air at a height estimated as much as 50 feet above the steeply-sloping land.
"Lucky, lucky, kid," says Skinner, theorizing that, after the car shattered his garage and scalped his roof, the next thing broken by the death-defying silver Ford Five Hundred sedan was a tree that cushioned the car's return to earth.
The whole escapade began around 11:30pm that evening when a perpetrator allegedly burgled a home in the 700 block of Highland Avenue in the Johnson Village neighborhood. The homeowner slept through the incident, unaware that his keys and his car had been stolen, says the City's Barrick.
On the video, an alert Officer Carper spots the vehicle speeding east on University Avenue. Making a quick U-turn, Carper follows the car through a red light, gives chase past "Mad Bowl," through the heart of fraternities, sororities, and other hip off-campus student housing along Rugby before the road shifts to upscale single-family dwellings and on to the bend at Preston Avenue where the car disappears.
"Tonight's our first night sleeping under the mega-guardrail," says Skinner, noting that it's much taller than typical barrier. And he raves about the contractors who put his house back together.
"I hate to admit it," says Skinner, whose insurance company temporarily ensconced him at the luxurious Omni hotel, "but this has been almost a positive experience."
–updated 6:12pm, Monday, November 1 to remove Longo unavailable for comment with Longo perspective.