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High-speed chase raises questions

Police agencies involved in last weekend's high-speed chase that ended in a fatal crash aren't commenting publicly on their handling of the incident. We assume there have been multiple, detailed conversations within those agencies about the tactics used and the decisions made, with the intention of preventing such tragedies in the future. Eventually, the public deserves to hear an official explanation.

Mail Tribune reporter Nick Morgan reviewed police scanner traffic from the incident, which started just before midnight Saturday, Aug. 6 when a Medford police officer went to the Travelodge motel on Alba Drive to serve a warrant on Robert Franklin Brooks for violating parole on a first-degree burglary conviction. The encounter did not go well.

Brooks first ran, then jumped in a car and sped away with officers in pursuit. Less than 15 minutes later, the pickup Brooks was driving plowed into a car at Vilas and Table Rock roads, killing Catherine "Katie" Hein, a 63-year-old White City grandmother who was heading home after taking her granddaughter to see an Oregon Shakespeare Festival play. After hitting Hein's car, Brooks' truck plowed into the Lil' Pantry convenience store, igniting a two-alarm fire.

What's disturbing about the chase that preceded the fatal crash is that Brooks reportedly drove without lights, reached speeds of nearly 70 mph on Hillcrest Road in East Medford, turned north on Sunrise and Springbrook, where he sped through at least one traffic light, topped 70 mph on Coker Butte Road, reached 90 mph on North Foothill Road and then hit 105 on Vilas Road.

By the end of the chase, Brooks had driven over spike strips that punctured three tires, and the truck was "falling apart," scanner traffic indicated — all before the fatal collision.

It isn't clear whether police vehicles were still pursuing Brooks by the end of the incident. After the pickup's tires blew, an officer can be heard shouting "Back off!" repeatedly. It's also not clear how fast pursuing officers were driving.

It's not our intention to second-guess officers involved in a chaotic pursuit of a fleeing suspect, and there's no question who is responsible for Hein's death — Brooks. But given the tragic outcome of this chase, there are other questions that need to be asked.

Was a warrant for a parole violation adequate justification for a chase in which the fleeing driver exceeded 100 mph? Should officers have broken off the pursuit earlier? Might that have prevented Hein's tragic death?

The public — and Katie Hein's family — deserve answers.