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2351 2 months ago
2351 2 months ago
On a weekday afternoon, a state trooper stood beside Interstate 44 watching a stolen car speed toward him at 100-plus mph as precipitation fell amid freezing temperatures.
His flashing lights on, the trooper waved through motorists before acting in “a small window of opportunity.” He pulled spike strips into the path of the eluder, who swerved and died in a violent barrel roll.
With the 2010 Dodge Avenger being tracked by its lienholder via GPS, was pursuing on a busy highway in wintry conditions worth the risk? The Oklahoma Highway Patrol didn’t ask that question. Nor were any other inquiries made into the fatal chase.
OHP acknowledged it never reviewed the decisions nor actions of its troopers after a legal dispute with the Tulsa World prompted it to release the case file 20 months after the deadly pursuit.
The agency argued its deployment of spike strips isn’t considered a use of force because the suspect managed to avoid them; therefore, its policy doesn’t mandate a supervisory review even though a person died following troopers’ intervention.
Agency protocols leave substantial gaps in reporting and documentation that invite questions about accountability and transparency — including the chase Nov. 11, 2019, that killed a 35-year-old Tulsan.
The World asked OHP why Troopers Matthew White and Charles Criddle chose to chase Arron Turner Starks, given adverse conditions and the successful GPS tracking. A spokeswoman provided a one-sentence written response:
“OHP has provided all the reports in this matter.”
White and Trooper Ronnie Sites, who used the spike strips, discussed the pursuit and crash on scene.
“I didn’t think he was ever gonna come to a rest,” said White, the lead pursuer. “I’ve never seen a car roll that many times.”
Sites later described deploying the spike strips as “some scary business.” White said a similar situation had played out with him in a previous chase.
“The last pursuit I had out here was almost the same scenario. ... The guy swerved and missed (the spike strips) and rolled,” White said. “He wasn’t going as fast.”
‘Better him than a good person’
White and Criddle spotted and followed the reported stolen 2010 Dodge Avenger westbound about 1:15 p.m. on I-44 as it slowly exited into the travel plaza near Stroud.
The lienholder — a used car dealership in Tulsa — had contacted law enforcement to offer the Avenger’s location and direction of travel from a GPS device, as well as a suspect description.
Starks momentarily stopped before the pursuit began, with the chase passing more than two dozen vehicles in its five minutes.
White and Sites discussed the chase afterward from inside White’s cruiser. White told Sites he “did perfect” on his spike strip deployment.
“Well, I’m sorry that the guy died, but better him than a good person,” Sites said.
About 10 minutes after the fatal wreck, Criddle was inside his cruiser with the stereo on when a weather report cautioned motorists to limit speeds because of the wintry conditions.
“It’s going to be important to reduce speeds today. That’ll help you both with the slick pavement and the strong winds.”
An OHP collision fatality report described the road conditions as dry and characterized the pursuit-related crash as “not an incident” instead of a “legal intervention.” A spokeswoman said that was the correct coding for the fatal crash.
An Oklahoma Turnpike Authority spokesman told Tulsa World that stretch of interstate was “damp” or “wet but not slick” after crews had treated I-44.
Footage shot by KWTV and an image from KOKH shows at least one OHP vehicle on scene had ice on its body.
While White and Sites were discussing the deadly crash on video, White made a remark about the cold.
“You know what’s funny?” Sites said in reply. “The whole time I was sitting back there by my car waiting on y’all, I didn’t notice the cold, and I didn’t notice the rain.”
White filed a written statement the day of the pursuit, Criddle two days afterward and Sites three days afterward.
OHP documents state that troopers found a handgun and shotgun in the car, and an autopsy found methamphetamine in Starks’ system.
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