The Maryland Transportation Authority Police (MDTA) attempted a traffic stop which developed into a full speed chase pursuing Michael R. Brown, of Hagerstown, in December 2015. The chase spanned approximately 15 miles and reached speeds of nearly 100 mph. Brown was northbound on I-95 when he lost control of the vehicle and veered across the median where he hit and killed Sonjia Johnson-Baker and Jason B. Canter. The family of Johnson-Baker has filed a wrongful death suit against the MTAP for negligence in the accident for damages in excess of $75,000.
F. Scott Lucas, the plaintiff’s attorney, had reviewed the police video footage of the pursuit from the dashboard camera, which showed an officer traveling at 130 mph at one point. Lucas feels that the chase should have been stopped well before reaching such dangerous speeds. He suggested that the officers exhibited a reckless disregard for the safety of the public and that the lives of those traveling along that 15 mile stretch were clearly put in danger. The MDTA and the Maryland Transportation Authority, also a named defendant in the claim, did not respond with comments. The criminal case against Brown resulted in a guilty plea to a charge of vehicular manslaughter and an 18 year prison sentence.
Johnson-Baker’s family is said to be still coping with the memories of the incident. Lucas says that the family is still in the process of healing from this preventable tragedy. The case will proceed through the Baltimore City Circuit Court and also names four officers involved in the chase among the defendants. The MDTA is ranked seventh nationally (in size) among agencies in law-enforcement with over 600 employed professionals. The agency has jurisdiction for the state’s highways, the Baltimore/D.C. International Airport and the Port of Baltimore
A similar event occurred several months later when officers attempted to stop a reportedly stolen truck on I-95 near the Fort McHenry Tunnel. This chase crossed Harford and Cecil counties before ending with a collision killing both the driver and passenger instantly. An investigation into this matter is still being conducted. The MDTA has an internal disciplinary board that may convene on situations that are not felonious. The board may analyze such incidents and take appropriate action.
Incidents where police chases lead to fatalities among innocent motorists are increasingly common. The Baltimore Police are allowed to pursue a fleeing vehicle if the driver is suspected of a felony. Officers are supposed to weigh the danger that the suspect may pose to the community in high-speed pursuits. In Maryland civil cases, local governments will pay a maximum of $500,000 for accidents resulting from reckless high-speed chases.
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