INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (March 30, 2016) -- Catharine Butler is 20 years old, has less than four years experience as a driver and her car is a wreck.
She blames IMPD after she was caught up in a police chase.
“We had nowhere to go. We had a 360 degree on ramp loop. They should’ve slowed down like it was a school zone and waited for us to get over. If I would’ve got over when they first came up on us they would’ve rear-ended me. They were going so fast.”
Catharine was driving her 2008 Dodge Avenger off southbound I-465 on the northwest side Saturday night onto southbound I-65, headed home from work.
In the car with her was her boyfriend James Bragg and their roommate Clayton Hodgkin.
That’s when Catharine’s rear view mirror filled up with images of speeding IMPD patrol cars bearing down on her, red and blue lights flashing, the sounds of their sirens piercing the night air.
“They’re on me, like, that’s how close they were,” Catharine said, spreading her hands three inches apart. “I had no room to slow down, get over, nothing.
“So I come out of the ramp and two of them, as soon as we’re right there getting on the interstate, hurry up and speed past us. The third one, I go to check my blind spot…and it's so close to me, so I start moving my car over even more. I was already moving over coming off the ramp…then the next thing I know, we hit the concrete. The airbag actually hit this side of my face and this side smashed into the driver’s side window.”
Catharine’s face is covered with red chemical burns from the air bag. Her left cornea scratched, she can’t see out of that eye. She also suffered a strain on her spine.
Bragg’s back and right knee are injured. Hodgkin is in a neck brace with a cervical spine injury.
“She was trying to get over on the ramp, she was kind of panicking,” said Hodgkin who was in the back seat, “and as soon as she gets off that ramp and onto the highway they’re just flying up on her and she just speeds up a little bit on the actual highway to try and get over.
“(The officer was) pushing her over and it just happened so fast. We slammed into the wall.”
IMPD officers were chasing a motorist who wouldn’t stop when he was caught speeding on I-65 at West 38th Street.
The pursuit continued northbound on I-65 to I-465 where the fleeing driver exited onto West 86th Street only to re-enter southbound I-465, exit onto southbound I-65 and continue to evade officers until he bailed out of the car in the 5900 block of North New Jersey Street in a northside neighborhood.
The driver was never caught, but drugs were recovered from his car.
By the time the pursuit ended, ambulance crews were attending to Butler, Bragg and Hodgkin.
“In this instance you probably had an individual who was inexperienced at driving, you had police cars that were catching up to her, or were involved in the pursuit, that were going at a fast pace and probably startled our driver,” said IMPD Captain Richard Riddle. “As our police cars were approaching them from behind, that individual swerved to the right to get out of the officers’ way and crashed into the barrier wall on the interstate.”
In the state of Indiana, drivers must safely avoid emergency vehicles, if at all possible, by slowing down to the right or coming to a complete halt.
At the IMPD Academy, recruits are trained in operating a patrol car in a safe manner mindful of distractions and conditions.
Veteran officers regularly go through refresher training at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in Plainfield.
Capt. Riddle said IMPD Chief Troy Riggs had already ordered a review of the way IMPD conducts pursuits before Saturday night’s crash.
“Out pursuit policy has not been updated since the merge (with the Marion County Sheriff’s Department) in 2007and we may need to take a fresh look at this policy with a fresh set of eyes to make sure we are following best practice and preferred policy around the nation,” said Riddle.
As if landing in somebody else’s chase, wrecking their car and being hurt wasn’t bad enough, to literally add insult to injury, Bragg was arrested by a Marion County Sheriff’s special deputy at St. Vincent Hospital for trespassing when he refused medical treatment after failing to get answers about his girlfriend’s whereabouts and condition.
“They escort me outside,” said Bragg. “They say, ‘No, you gotta go right now. Get off the property.’ ‘Where am I gonna go? I don’t even know where I’m at. We all came here together. We got in a wreck on the interstate. I don’t understand. What am I supposed to do?’”
Injured and distraught, Bragg was handcuffed and bundled into the back of a Marion County Sheriff jail wagon and hauled off to the Arrestee Processing Center where he was held all day, without pain medication, before being released Sunday night.
The trespassing charges were dropped.
“They arrest me. They freakin’ arrest me,” said Bragg, still wincing from the pain of his injuries. “Take me to jail. I get to jail. I’m in jail 17 hours before they tell me they’re not filing charges on me. No charges were filed. They let me go.”
St. Vincent Hospital released this statement regarding Bragg’s arrest and its decision to drop charges:
“Due to patient confidentiality requirements, we cannot comment on situations involving individuals who may have been transported to our facility for care. While we also cannot discuss any specific situations involving security, we can state that in general, we have a commitment to provide a safe environment for patients and associates and will act accordingly to do so.”
Butler said none of the trio requested to be taken to St. Vincent, preferring treatment at Eskanazi Hospital instead.
After being released on pain medication, her friend in a neck brace, Butler said she and Hodgkin walked a mile in the middle of the night to the intersection of 86th Street and Michigan Road to catch a ride home from her mother who drove from Cincinnati after the crash.
The injured were asked who they blamed for their accident. Bragg spoke for them all.
“The police, without a doubt,” he said. “Their negligence and they completely mishandled that situation. They should’ve let us get out of the way. I understand whatever happened was bad. Okay. Don’t hurt people in the process. Let us get out of your way. We’re on an interstate for crying out loud.”
While still in pain and off work due to his injuries, Bragg said he was encouraged to learn that IMPD was in the process of reviewing its policies to make sure such pursuits are conducted safely considering the level of violation by the fleeing driver and taking into consideration the reaction of other motorists to a road suddenly filled with speeding police cars and flashing lights.
Hodgkin said he has hired an attorney to pursue damages to pay for his injuries and lost wages.