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Originally published Tuesday, May 28, 2013 at 9:14 PM

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Snohomish County death underscores risks of police pursuits

The death of a 72-year-old man in Lynnwood on Friday marks the second time this month that a Snohomish County resident died after being struck by a suspect fleeing police.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Lynnwood police say officers face a “balancing act” each time a suspect flees in a vehicle.

Officers must weigh whether the pursuit is warranted, given the suspected crime as well as the potential risks to the public.

It’s a “critical decision that must be made quickly and under difficult and unpredictable circumstances,” according to the Lynnwood Police Department’s policy on police pursuits.

An officer made such a decision on Friday in the pursuit of two people wanted on warrants, which ended in a collision that killed an innocent driver. The name of the 72-year-old victim has not yet been released by the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The Lynnwood man’s death was the second in less than two weeks in Snohomish County in which a motorist was struck and killed by a driver fleeing from police.

The crash is being investigated by the department’s accident-investigation squad, according to police spokeswoman Shannon Sessions.

She said the pursuit will be reviewed by a Major Incident Review Board, which is intended to provide an internal, objective look at the circumstances surrounding major incidents and whether an officer’s actions conformed to department policies, regulations and training.

According to Sessions, a special-operations officer was on patrol at 200th Street Southwest and Highway 99 about 8 p.m. Friday looking for people wanted on warrants when he spotted two, a man and a woman, in a white van.

When the officer tried to stop the van, the 42-year-old female driver sped off, Sessions said.

The officer pursued the vehicle, which police said was being driving erratically and dangerously, eastbound on 196th Street Southwest for two miles at speeds that reached 60 to 80 mph.

The van struck a car driven by the victim at the intersection of 44th Avenue West and 212th Street Southwest.

The driver of the fleeing van, Shellie R. Becker, was arrested on two misdemeanor warrants for drug possession and theft and investigation of vehicular homicide. She is being held in Snohomish County Jail in lieu of $250,000 bail, according to jail records.

The earlier fatal crash during a pursuit happened May 12 when Rachael Kamin, 40, of Mukilteo, died after her car was struck at an Everett intersection by a man who was fleeing Bothell in a stolen pickup, according to Everett police, who are investigating the incident.

According to The (Everett) Herald, Kamin was a nursing student and a mother of two who was driving home from her job as a nurse’s aid at the time of the accident.

The alleged driver of the stolen pickup, Joseph D. Strange, 33, is being held in Snohomish County Jail on investigation of first-degree murder, a charge that is possible only if prosecutors can show that Strange acted with “extreme indifference to human life” in connection with the collision.

According to Bothell police, the pursuit of the stolen truck was called off before the fatal collision that killed Kamin.

Sessions said Becker is a “career criminal.” Court records how she had 26 previous convictions, including five felonies.

And as she fled police on Friday, she was “driving erratically through parking lots and red lights, and was a danger to the people around,” said Sessions.

Police are also investigating whether she was under the influence of drugs at the time of the crash.

Her passenger, a 55-year-old man, was released from Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center on Monday and booked into jail on a felony warrant related to drug convictions. He is being held on $100,000 bail, jail records show.

“We wish that it had ended differently,” Sessions said of the fatal crash. “We do the best we can in keeping the public safe, but we don’t always know what the outcome will be and, unfortunately, we were dealing with career criminals and a driver who was arrested for driving under the influence.”

Police departments have policies governing when they initiate and terminate police pursuits.

Lynnwood’s pursuit policy follows the nationally accredited practices recommended by Lexipol, a Web-based provider of risk-management policies and resources, Sessions said.

According to the department’s policy, officers should weigh a number of criteria before initiating a pursuit, including the seriousness of the known or suspected crime; whether the suspect is known; whether the suspect can be apprehended at a later time; and whether the suspect presents a serious threat to public safety.

Christine Clarridge: 206-850-4717 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com.

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