KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan State Police say a trooper followed pursuit protocol when he followed a speeding driver who eventually crashed in Kentwood, killing a teenager and a Calvin College student.
In a news conference Monday, Lt. Chris McIntire said Trooper Chris Bommarito of the Rockford Post spotted the suspect going 90 mph in a 70 mph zone and tried to pull him over Saturday night. McIntire said they both exited at 54th Street and the driver stopped for about 15 seconds before taking off.
The chase spanned five miles and lasted about six minutes before the suspect’s car crashed into another vehicle driven by Tara Oskam.
Oskam, 21, was heading home from a church euchre tournament, according to her boyfriend. He told 24 Hour News 8 she was on the phone with her roommate when the crash happened at Broadmoor Avenue and 52nd Street.
The passenger in the suspect’s vehicle, 15-year-old David Torrez, was also killed in the fiery crash.
McIntire said the trooper and a Kentwood police officer pulled the suspect to safety as the flames spread. The suspect was seriously injured in the crash but last listed in stable condition, according to police.
Relatives identified the driver of the suspect vehicle as the passenger’s cousin, 16-year-old Alex Torrez. However, MSP will not name the suspect until he is arraigned.
State records show Alex Torrez did not have a valid driver’s license. In the approximate year he was eligible for a license, he was caught three times with an invalid or improper license, according to records.
“Our investigation will be through that person to see the ‘whys’ he fled from us, because we don’t know the answer to that question yet, as well as getting back any kind of toxicology reports back on what he may have had in his system,” said McIntire.
STAYING ON THE CHASE
McIntire said Bommarito took into account seven factors as he continued following the suspect, including the nature of the violation, his familiarity of the area and the suspect, the speeds they were traveling, area traffic conditions, weather conditions and the capability of his vehicle for a chase.
“The trooper checked all those boxes off mentally and followed official orders,” said McIntire.
McIntire said a camera installed in Bommarito’s vehicle showed both vehicles slowing down at times, and that traffic was never heavy during the chase, which began around 10 p.m. Saturday.
“Even the driver of the suspect vehicle was very conscious, if you will, of his driving. He slowed down at all of the red lights that I could see. He slowed down at one green light, almost to a stop before he went through it,” said McIntire.
Bommarito has a 20-year career with MSP, according to McIntire. He’s been stationed at the Rockford Post since 2006 and lives in the area, he said.
“That’s one of the big factors we play into this. If this person a: knows that area, and knows that it will be troublesome, I mean certainly you can’t predict the outcome of what happened Saturday night. But if they can know that there is T-intersections coming up or big curves, many times, in many times they do just terminate those pursuits because it’s just not safe anymore. So him knowing that area and knowing that stretch of roadway he was heading on weighed into his decision not to terminate that pursuit,” McIntire said.
While the suspect’s vehicle was always in sight, McIntire said tracking the suspect through the vehicle’s license plate wouldn’t have led to a guaranteed arrest.
“Not necessarily. I have family members now that I couldn’t find,” he said.
McIntire said a sergeant and dispatcher were also closely monitoring the pursuit and had the authority to call off the chase at any time.
“We don’t know what’s happening inside that car. There has been cases in Kent County, we can recall back to Wyoming when there was a pursuit and we ended up finding a dead body in the trunk of the car. So, we don’t know what’s going on inside that car until we get it stopped,” said McIntire.
McIntire acknowledged that pursuits are very dangerous, which is why MSP reviewed its policy 2.5 years ago. He said troopers take yearly “refresher” tests on the policy.
‘THIS IS A HORRIBLE OUTCOME’
Bommarito remains on active duty, but the situation is taking its toll.
“It’s tough, it’s tough. He’s doing good but we have a lot of things in place for us to… resources that they can reach out and talk to if they need,” said McIntire.
MSP anticipates its investigation into the pursuit and crash should be finished this week then forwarded to the prosecutor for review. No other outside agency will be involved in the investigation.
“Any pursuit is dangerous and this is a horrible outcome,” said McIntire, who offered his condolences to the victims of the crash.
“I hope that God sees a way to help them through the days, weeks and months to come,” he said.
Calvin College chaplain Rev. Mary Hulst said pastors and counselors will be available throughout the week for grieving students.
The college’s weekly Sunday night church service was held as usual, but was altered in light of the tragedy. Oskam’s boyfriend, Chad Beisel, was at that service.
>>Online: Calvin College remembers Tara Oskam
A visitation is being held at Matthysse Kuiper DeGraaf Chapel, located at 4646 Kalamazoo Avenue SE, from 2-4 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. Wednesday. A memorial service for Oskam is planned for 1 p.m. Thursday at First Byron Center Christian Reformed Church, located at 8541 Byron Center Avenue SW.
**Editor’s Note: Family members previously said Alex Torrez is 17. He is actually 16, but will turn 17 later this month.