Fugitives responsible for risks of pursuit, cont’d

On Thursday we posted a story about a jury’s holding a Missouri fugitive responsible for the crash of a police car which was headed (at a great distance) toward his manhunt. Now similar issues might come up following a more spectacular catastrophe, yesterday’s crash of two news helicopters over central Phoenix while covering a live police pursuit, with the death of all four persons aboard. Phoenix police chief Jack Harris, per the coverage, “said he believes the man [fleeing police] will be held responsible for the deaths of the four TV station employees.” (“2 News Helicopters Collide; 4 Dead”, KPHO News 5, Jul. 27).


  • This strikes me as stretching the chain of culpability just a few links too far.

  • OK. That’s bull. One if not both of the pilots are guilty of violating FAA regulations concerning aircraft flight safety, spacing requirements, and right-of-way.

    I blame crooks for a lot, but not his fault a pilot took unnecessary risks to make for a better story.

  • How is the man that was fleeing responsible for helicopter pilots not maintaining proper control of their aircraft?

  • With apologies to Mal Reynolds,

    “Do you know what the chain of causality is? It’s the chain I go and beat you with until you take responsibility for your own gorram actions.”

  • I was watching the coverage of the helicopter crash and I bit my nails, causing a painful hangnail. Can I ask that the criminal fleeing police be held responsible for this assault upon myslef?

  • FAA regulations don’t apply when pilots are rubbernecking.

  • I live in Phoenix and I hold a commercial pilot’s (fixed wing) license. I heard about yesterday’s tragedy shortly after it happened. I also heard later on the radio that the county attorney, Andrew Thomas, was contemplating trying to hold the fleeing suspect responsible for the deaths of the two helicopter crews.

    I agree with John Burgess that this is stretching the chain of culpability too far. The helicopter pilots failed in one of the most basic responsibilties pilot has under Visual Flight Rules. That is to see, be seen by and avoid other aircraft and it is the Pilot-In-Command that is completely and solely responsible for the safe operation of the aircraft. There were at least three helicopters, the accident helicopters; Chanel 15 and 3, as well as Fox 10’s right behind them. They were all at least partially preoccupied with tracking a vehicle on the ground that was making random turns. It would be all too easy to lose track of each other in that situation and in such close proximity the result is sadly predictable.

    This was an entirely preventable tragedy. The crews took a lot of risks for the sake of a few more minutes of car chase footage but it was their choice to take those risks. Trying to shift the blame to the car chase suspect is not going to change that.

  • It is ridiculous to hold the man fleeing police responsible for some cowboy pilot’s negligence, but the same thing happened in Cali in 1991 (People v. Acosta).

  • The police chief is not raising the question of importance to the families of the deceased. Among those potentially in the chain of causation, who would likely have insurance or assets worth pursuing? Personally, I would start with the news executives and companies who feel it is necessary to chase high speed pursuits with video cameras. I believe the instructions regarding camera angles and proximity would be interesting reading.

  • For trivia buffs, the Andrew Thomas who is district attorney for Maricopa County is the same person as the Andrew Peyton Thomas toward whom I was uncharitable in this Reason piece exactly ten years ago.

  • I think there was five helicopters in the air around the scene from what I heard, four news helicopters and one police helicopter. Nothing like a Charlie-Foxtrot.

  • Since posting my comment this morning I’ve actually gotten around to reading the newpaper. It was a total of 6 helos. Five news, one police. I’ve cross-posted at my blog: http://takemetoyourlizard.blogspot.com

  • Good grief, Greedy Trial Lawyer: Are you saying that, if this had been a building on fire and the ‘copters crashed, the families of those killed should sue the TV stations &/or the building’s owners??? That is nuts.
    Maybe what should happen is, that a TV news chopper (and yes, maybe even radio traffic choppers) should be required to have a pilot whose sole job is to fly the chopper–not have combined pilot/reporters or pilot/camera operators.

  • Hang on here a sec . . . by G.T.L.’s logic, maybe the families of the firefighters who died in a traffic accident a few years back, coming to help fight the Hayman fire in Colorado . . . could sue in civil court the Sierra Club and all the environmental groups for not allowing thinning of the forests, which would have cut down the chance of fire, thereby not requiring the firefighters to get here in the first place!. How about it, GTL???

  • I’m sure if GTL saw a payday for himself in it, he’d be willing to follow whatever twists and perversions of logic anyone here could dream up.

  • Lots of people are jumping to conclusions here. We don’t know the cause of the helicopter crash yet.

    That there’s inherent risk to flying in a helicopter is clear. That news helicopter’s cover high speed chases is clear. This inherent risk was, in this case, caused by the fleeing felon. If the accident was caused by that inherent risk, then the fleeing felon is response. This is as sure as that an arsonist is responsible for the death of a fireman due to the inherent risk of fighting the fire he caused.

    However, that a highly-experienced news helicopter pilot would fly negligently is not foreseeable. Such negligence would also be an intervening cause. There is no reason to hold a felon responsible for a death caused by someone else’s unforeseeable negligence.

    So I’m waiting for the NTSB report.