Fatal Crash Prompts Move To Require Use of Sirens

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 8, 2009

The death of Ashley McIntosh, in a collision with a Fairfax County police cruiser on Route 1 last year, could lead to a change in Virginia law.

McIntosh, 33, pulled her Toyota Corolla out of the Mount Vernon Plaza shopping center, on a green light, and was struck broadside by a police car driven by Officer Amanda Perry on Feb. 12. McIntosh died the next day.

The video camera in Perry's car confirmed witness accounts that the officer was using her emergency lights but not her siren as she entered the intersection with Boswell Road on a red light, traveling 38 to 44 miles per hour.

Virginia law allows emergency vehicles to proceed through red lights if they are using their lights and sirens, but only "as may be reasonably necessary." Fairfax prosecutors charged Perry with reckless driving, but a substitute judge from Stafford County found her not guilty, which members of McIntosh's family said compounded their pain.

Even before the officer's acquittal in October, McIntosh's mother began working for change. Cindy Colasanto said she learned that most states require emergency vehicles to use their lights and sirens when driving through a red light instead of making it optional, as Virginia does.

"In tightening the law," Colasanto said, "we feel it would benefit the police, by giving them clearer guidelines, as well as innocent citizens on the road. The goal and intent is to save lives."

"Ashley's Law" will be introduced in Richmond by state Sen. Linda D. "Toddy" Puller (D-Fairfax) and Del. David L. Englin (D-Alexandria). Englin said he thought it was reasonable to expect a police officer or any emergency vehicle to have lights and sirens on when going through an intersection, "especially when going through a red light, and I don't think that hampers their ability to protect public safety."

Englin said he couldn't predict whether the bill would pass, "but I would think any legislator who understands what happened in Fairfax County, and views that video footage, would think it is reasonable to require emergency vehicles to use sirens and lights when they go through intersections. That's why they have sirens and lights."

Puller said, "I don't think we're really changing the law: We're just making it clearer." She said she had sent a copy of the bill to Fairfax police and the statewide coalition of police unions and was waiting for their response. "I'm hoping we don't have any controversy," Puller said, "because I don't think it's controversial."

Fairfax police policy requires officers to use their sirens and lights when entering a red-light intersection, but state law does not. Colasanto said that might have been why Stafford General District Court Judge Sarah Deneke found Perry not guilty, although Deneke did not explain her ruling.

Colasanto has launched an online petition in support of Ashley's Law, and combined with standard written petitions, she has gathered more than 2,300 signatures. Colasanto has prepared a packet with a fact sheet on the case and a copy of the video of the crash shot by Perry's in-car camera, which she plans to send to Virginia legislators. She also will testify in support of the bill because "there is nothing more precious than a human life, and we feel this legislation is of inestimable value."

The petition is available at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/AshleysLaw/. The video of the crash can be seen on YouTube.

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