Police pursuit precedes fatal accident

A traffic collision that left one man dead and a young woman seriously injured in a south campus neighborhood has relatives and friends of the woman questioning whether Chico police officers’ actions may have contributed to the crash.

Late Friday night, Aug. 28, police responded to a call of an assault at a party south of campus near Broadway. When an officer spotted the suspect’s vehicle, he tried to pull it over at Seventh Street and Broadway. The driver, 28-year-old Samuel Eugene Allen, of Oroville, allegedly failed to stop and took off south on Broadway with the police in pursuit.

Crystal Pettit, 19, of Durham was driving north on Broadway, returning from the Sierra Market on Park Avenue. At 17th Street and Broadway, Allen’s SUV clipped four parked vehicles and then ran head-on into Pettit’s Acura Legend.

Jordan Jones, Pettit’s boyfriend, who was waiting for her to return, lives near the intersection and said he heard a loud sound that he thought was a gunshot.

The impact broke loose both the driver and passenger seats, as well as the seat belt, throwing Pettit into the rear seat. Pettit received lacerations to her head that required 20 staples to close, as well as injuries to her neck and chest.

Allen’s SUV overturned, partially ejecting him. He was later declared dead at Enloe Medical Center.

Police told the Enterprise-Record, which first reported the story on Monday, Aug. 30, that officers pursued the suspect briefly and ended their chase in the “interest of safety.” The story also reported police Sgt. James Fryar said Pettit had been held only overnight for observation and was released Saturday morning.

In fact, she wasn’t released until Tuesday afternoon.

“There was no reason for a high-speed chase as I understand it,” said Jones. “I was pretty pissed, but didn’t say anything to the cops at the time.”

Pettit’s mother, Sierra, said she was told the officer giving chase backed off two blocks from the impact, which, she added, suggests the pursuit through a residential area lasted for eight blocks. At times, Sierra Pettit said she was told, Allen’s vehicle reached 100 miles per hour. She also said she was told he slammed into her daughter’s car at 75 mph.

“We were told the officers really weren’t sure what the guy had done or why they were chasing him,” Sierra Pettit said.

Ironically, Pettit knows Candy Priano, whose daughter, Kristi, was killed in 2002 by an unlicensed driver trying to escape a low-speed police pursuit in a north Chico neighborhood. That death led to a lawsuit against the Chico Police Department and proposed legislation by Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, to change police pursuit policies in the state. The lawsuit was denied and the bill, heavily fought by the state’s police chiefs, never became law.

Pettit said she talked with Candy Priano for about 45 minutes the day before Crystal was released from the hospital.

“I can’t say I’m angry at the police,” she said. “I’m more angry at the idiots who get in cars and endanger our lives.”

There were at least three different calls to police from three different locations concerning Allen’s belligerent behavior the night of the accident, including a reported assault at a fraternity party that left a victim with a fat lip. Both Jones and Pettit’s mother questioned why police would choose to pursue the suspect of a reported assault at a frat party. But, according to other sources, it may have been the combination of Pettit’s actions that night that led to the aggressive police response.

County court records show Allen had a number of brushes with the law going back 10 years, including convictions for drunk driving and grand theft, violation of probation, possession of controlled substance, driving on a suspended license and making criminal threats (for which he was sentenced to three years in state prison in 2001) and charges of possession of a deadly weapon.

One source told the News & Review the police did things by the book that night and that an investigation by the California Highway Patrol would justify police actions.

Attorney Kevin Sears said he was just beginning an investigation into the case. Crystal Pettit’s aunt works in his office.

Sgt. Linda Dye said she could not give out any information because it was under investigation by the CHP. The CHP confirmed there was an ongoing investigation, as requested by the Chico police, but the results will not be made public until the end of next week.