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The Region

Fatal Collision Reopens Debate on Police Pursuits

Law enforcement: Father of Oxnard 18-year-old who died in crash with CHP car pleads for more caution.

March 26, 2002|MARGARET TALEV and TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A crash that killed an Oxnard teen over the weekend has again prompted debate about how police should conduct high-speed pursuits through urban areas.

It could be weeks before investigators know crucial details about the incident, in which a California Highway Patrol cruiser that was pursuing a speeder broadsided another car carrying 18-year-old Jessica Mohorko on Saturday just after midnight. It has not been determined whether the cruiser had its flashing lights or siren on at the time.

The victim's father on Monday implored the CHP to use more caution on the busy stretch of Oxnard Boulevard where the crash occurred and to reevaluate its policy on high-speed pursuits.

"I am not going to tolerate them speeding through my community," said Edgar Mohorko, senior pastor at Messiah Foursquare Church in Oxnard and a chaplain for the Oxnard Police Department.

"They didn't go out there to kill my daughter; they were doing their job," Mohorko said of the husband-wife team of officers involved. "But the problem is, they are also supposed to be out there protecting my daughter."

Jessica Mohorko died instantly. Her boyfriend, Chris Haynes, who was driving them to a local restaurant after a school dance, suffered a broken arm.

Highway Patrol Commissioner D.O. "Spike" Helmick on Monday offered his condolences to the young woman's family and promised a thorough investigation.

At the same time, he defended policies that allow officers to drive at high rates of speed to catch suspects, whether they're traffic violators or armed felons.

"There are times, unfortunately, when you've got to stop an individual to ensure they don't continue down the road and do more damage," Helmick said. "That's a thing you struggle with all the time. If you simply went the speed limit all the time, they'd keep going fast and someone else would get hurt."

CHP officials say Officers Jack and Christina Raughton were trying to catch up to a speeder on Oxnard Boulevard, a commercial strip with late-night gas stations and restaurants that connects the Ventura Freeway to Pacific Coast Highway.

It was unclear how long they had been following the alleged speeder, but Lt. Steve Munday said the suspect's car had run a red light at Vineyard Avenue, about half a mile north of the collision.

Officially, the CHP said, the Raughtons were not involved in a chase, because they had not yet notified dispatch that one had begun.

"When they have an actual pursuit, the officer will get on the radio and say that to the dispatcher," CHP spokesman Tom Marshall said.

"None of that was activated. They were just about to make a stop, they thought. The driver, to the best of our knowledge, never knew they were trying to stop him."

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