Ross: Police pursuit that led to fatal crash in West Philly was justified

Commissioner Richard Ross called a fatal police chase an "absolute, horrible tragedy," but said the officers decided to start a pursuit because they heard gunshots at 48th Street and Westminster Avenue, then saw a man at that corner jump into a Nissan Maxima that sped away.

The day after a 55-year-old woman was killed in West Philadelphia when her car was hit by a car whose driver was attempting to flee from police, Police Commissioner Richard Ross said the officers' pursuit was justified.

Calling Carol Isom's death an "absolute, horrible tragedy," Ross said the officers decided to pursue the Nissan Maxima about 7:10 p.m. Wednesday because they had heard gunshots at 48th Street and Westminster Avenue, then saw a man at that corner jump into the car. Another man was already inside and drove them from the scene, Ross said.

About a mile away, the Maxima crashed into the woman's Kia Soul, according to police. Ross said officers recovered a gun from the Maxima and took the men into custody. Ross said they were 26 and 29 years old, and police said they were brothers. Authorities did not identify the men because charges were pending.

"Regardless of what the circumstances were, someone lost their life, and we're very cognizant of that," Ross said.

Police identified the victim as Isom. Family members gathered outside her home Thursday afternoon declined to comment. Several posted on Facebook about their grief.

The suspects "stole my lovely sister from me, her beautiful children, her husband, her grandchildren, her family, her friends, her neighbors, yes she was loved," wrote MiMi Riley.

Police sources said Isom drove for the ride-sharing service Lyft. No one else was in the car at the time of the crash, the sources said, and it was not clear whether she was working.

Police chases can be dangerous for officers, suspects, and the public. A USA Today investigation last year found that more than 5,000 bystanders and passengers were killed in police car chases from 1979 through 2013.

Philadelphia police protocols limit vehicle pursuits to situations that might prevent death or serious bodily injury to others, or where there is probable cause to believe that the people fleeing have a weapon or have committed a "forcible felony" such as homicide or aggravated assault.

Ross said the officers in Wednesday's chase - whom he did not identify - "absolutely" had probable cause.

The officers did not see the man shooting or holding a gun, but Ross said hearing the shots and seeing the car take off gave them reason to follow.

Subsequent examination of surveillance video showed that before the officers arrived, gunshots had been exchanged among the driver of the Maxima, the man who hopped in, and a third man on the corner, Ross said.

That man, age 27, later walked into Mercy Philadelphia Hospital with gunshot wounds to his left arm and wrist, police said.

The chase wended its way south of Market Street, and the Maxima ran a red light at 52nd and Locust Streets, police said. The Maxima collided on Locust with Isom's Kia, which spun into a parked car and stopped in a nearby lot, according to police.

Isom was taken to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead at 8:10 p.m., police said.

Ross said the men in the Maxima tried to flee but were apprehended. A gun was recovered from the vehicle.

The men were treated at Penn Presbyterian, police said. While there, police said, one of the brothers was found to be in possession of crack cocaine.

Ross said the men would face "a laundry list of charges," including homicide by vehicle, aggravated assault, and fleeing and eluding law enforcement.

cpalmer@phillynews.com

215-854-2817

@cs_palmer

Staff writer Robert Moran contributed to this article.

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