PITTSBURGH (AP) — Early indications are police didn't wrongly push a man who may have driven 100 mph to avoid officers before crashing into a car and killing a family of three on Thanksgiving, a prosecutor said Tuesday.
State police planned to use drones to measure and reconstruct the site of the crash, which killed David Bianco, his fiancee, Kaylie Meininger, and her 2-year-old daughter, Annika, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. said.
The victims were killed on impact by a car driven by Demetrius Coleman, who police from East McKeesport and North Versailles were chasing following an afternoon traffic stop, Zappala said. Coleman, of Pittsburgh, is charged with criminal homicide, vehicular homicide and other crimes.
An East McKeesport officer had stopped Coleman for making an illegal turn, checked his background, learned he was wanted for violating his probation in a drug case and then called for North Versailles officers to back him up, authorities said.
Shortly after the backup officers arrived, Coleman sped away from the convenience store parking lot where he'd been stopped and onto Route 30, a heavily traveled road in Pittsburgh's east suburbs, Zappala said.
"I don't believe under the circumstances that the officers pushed this guy" to speed away, Zappala said. "I think the state of mind of this defendant, on this day, is that he was not going to be arrested" because he likely faced prison for violating probation.
Zappala said the East McKeesport officer had even offered to let Coleman call someone for a ride home because of the holiday after finding out Coleman's license was suspended.
A woman in Coleman's car, Asia Camp, was found with 42 individual dose bags of heroin and told investigators she and Coleman had been driving around selling them, Zappala said. Online court records don't list attorneys for Coleman and Camp, who were in custody Tuesday and couldn't be reached for comment by phone.
The car Coleman was driving is too old to have a computerized black box that would tell police how fast he was driving. But the officer closest to Coleman, who was driving the other direction on Route 30 and turned around when he saw Coleman speed past, estimated Coleman was driving 100 mph based on his inability to gain ground on Coleman, a criminal complaint says.
Investigators are measuring landmarks on the 1.9-mile chase route, so they can calculate vehicle speeds based on surveillance video from nearby businesses that captured parts of the chase.
Zappala said police and other motorists agree the closest officer to Coleman's vehicle was several hundred yards away when the crash occurred. Zappala described the incident as a "chase," which he defined as officers following the vehicle in hopes they could tail it, as opposed to a "pursuit," in which police try to catch and stop a vehicle.
North Versailles' police chief was unavailable to comment on Zappala's remarks, but East McKeesport Chief Russell Stroschein said they mostly dovetail with what he believes occurred.
Zappala also said the East McKeesport officer who stopped Coleman may have violated policy by allowing Coleman to remain in his vehicle after police learned of the arrest warrant. But Stroschein said his officer was simply waiting for other officers to arrive so Coleman could be removed from the vehicle and arrested safely.