Several witnesses have told D.C. police that officers were not chasing the driver of a car moments before the speeding vehicle struck and killed two young children Saturday afternoon in Northeast Washington, police officials said yesterday.
Another witness, a 35-year-old management consultant, told The Washington Post yesterday that police were not chasing the car before it hit Christopher Suydan Jr., 7, and Octavia Suydan, 8.
The driver of this Honda Accord, which fatally struck a brother and sister and another car, told police that his brakes failed. It is not clear whether police have closely inspected the car yet.
(Alexa Hackbarth For The Washington Post)
Police officials' preliminary assessment that officers acted properly before the siblings were killed was met with skepticism by some residents and community leaders, who did not give much credibility to the unidentified police witnesses.
The car's driver, Eric Palmer, 19, of the District has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder and was being held pending an initial hearing today in D.C. Superior Court.
Police officials said that Palmer also supported officers' contention that they were not chasing him. The suspect told investigators that he did not see any officers pursuing him and blamed the crash on faulty brakes, police said.
Investigators do not believe that the brakes on Palmer's Honda Accord were defective, police said. It was unclear yesterday whether officers had closely inspected the vehicle, and police officials cautioned that their investigation was only in its infancy.
Palmer's statement and witness accounts are at odds with what others described seeing Saturday afternoon. One witness told The Post on Saturday that police were speeding only 10 feet behind Palmer's car before he hit Octavia and Christopher as they crossed Florida Avenue at 12th Street NE.
The crash has highlighted a brewing debate in the District about whether tight restrictions on police chases should be relaxed.
In general, D.C. police are not allowed to chase suspects unless they believe a violent felony has been committed or a pursuit is necessary to prevent harm to the public.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said he was making arrangements to meet with family members of the victims. "My heart is broken, as are the spirits of my family and many in this city," Williams said. He would not comment on the status of the investigation into the deaths but said that the "real culprit is the person who evaded the police."
Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey would not say whether officers acted appropriately but placed blame for the deaths squarely on the fleeing driver.
"He was driving like a maniac," Ramsey said. "There are no excuses for a guy to drive like that."
The children's relatives said they were not assigning blame and were looking forward to getting more answers.
New details emerged yesterday about what led Palmer to bolt from police as they tried to arrest another man during a drug sting.