Aiexpress – When Kearra Adams regained consciousness in a hospital in Kansas City, she found herself unable to recall the events that had led to her being in a coma.
Unable to communicate due to the presence of respiratory tubes, she was rendered speechless.
Three weeks prior, her life underwent a profound transformation. Little did she realize the extent of this change at that moment. It was during a fateful ride in a truck with her long-term partner and 13-year-old daughter when a driver, evading the police in a reckless pursuit, collided with their vehicle on a slippery, rain-soaked road.
Adams and her family experienced a terrifying incident on the evening of January 7, 2018. They were returning home from grocery shopping when their vehicle was struck by a driver who was being pursued by Independence police. It was later revealed that the police were not chasing the driver due to a violent felony or major crime, but rather because of a suspicious encounter at a motel.
The chase carried on by the Independence police persisted beyond the city limits until it eventually concluded with a crash in Kansas City.
After enduring three months in the hospital, she went through a total of eight surgeries.
The total medical bills for the family amounted to over $2 million, with Adams alone responsible for approximately $1.3 million of those expenses.
It has been almost five years, and to this day, a significant number of their bills are still left unpaid. Additionally, their lives continue to be plagued by the long-lasting effects of debilitating injuries.
She exclaimed that her life would never be the same.
According to an extensive investigation by The Star, Independence is the city in the Kansas City area where high-speed police chases, like the one that forever changed Adams’ life, occur most frequently.
In 2022, the Independence police engaged in a total of 330 vehicle chases, resulting in 46 crashes. These incidents led to injuries for 17 individuals, including six innocent victims.
Since 2018, 105 individuals, including police officers, have sustained injuries in crashes caused by Independence police chases. Tragically, eight civilians have lost their lives as a result.
Chases resulting in a high number of civilian casualties often exhibit similarities to the Adams crash. These include police officers opting to engage in pursuit for minor offenses and crossing city boundaries. Additionally, police officials tend to vehemently deny any responsibility for the tragic consequences of such pursuits.
Independence’s policy on high-speed chases is more permissive compared to many other police agencies in the metro. Unlike national law enforcement experts who believe that high-speed chases should only be pursued in cases of violent crimes and immediate danger to the public, Independence endorses such chases without any limitations.
In a recent interview, Independence Police Chief Adam Dustman emphasized the community’s expectation for officers to uphold the law and ensure that those who visit the city with criminal intentions are held accountable.
“I apologize for the injuries they sustained, but the responsibility lies not with the police. The suspect and their actions are to blame for the unfortunate incident. It is important to note that it was not a police officer who collided with their vehicle,” he clarified.
High-speed chase into Kansas City
Steele made the decision to pursue the SUV, pushing the speeds to 60 mph and then 70 mph in a rapid manner.
Steele activated his emergency lights and blared his siren as he radioed the police dispatcher.
“He’s already passed the stadium and there’s no traffic ahead of us,” Steele reported. “He’s still heading southbound and there are no other vehicles in sight. I think he has already gone through Raytown.”
During the six-minute chase, Steele skillfully maneuvered past 10 vehicles on the rain-slick streets and highway.
As Steele followed the SUV, driving without headlights, through multiple intersections and red lights, icy rain pelted his patrol car’s windshield.
As the pursuit persisted, additional drivers pulled over to the side of the road.
“StarChase is not effective,” Steele stated, expressing his doubts about the usefulness of the electronic device that police use to track vehicles from a distance. “Did you understand?”
The SUV raced north on Interstate 435 towards Missouri 350 Highway, reaching a speed of 85 mph. It continued its rapid journey onto Blue Parkway.
“He completely lost control. We urgently need the fire department and an ambulance. The vehicle is currently engulfed in flames,” Steele informed the dispatcher.
Adams was immediately transported to Research Medical Center by emergency crews. Tranae was admitted to Children’s Mercy, while Aldridge received medical care at St. Luke’s Hospital.
The pursuit lasted for a total of five minutes and 50 seconds, with the vehicles reaching a maximum speed of approximately 90 mph.
According to the police report, Steele stated that crossing the center line was a one-time occurrence for him.
Reports from Independence police, dated Jan. 8, 2018, stated that the SUV involved in the crash had been reported stolen from Kansas City.
Steele completed a report on the chase, stating that he was patrolling the area when he entered the motel parking lot.
According to Steele, he initiated the pursuit after witnessing what he believed to be the SUV hitting two individuals. However, police later determined that the SUV did not actually collide with the two men.
Dennis J. Mead III, an 18-year-old, faced arrest and was charged with resisting arrest. Eventually, he was found guilty and received a four-year prison sentence in Missouri.
No charges were filed against him in connection with the incidents that preceded the police pursuit.
Steele currently holds a valid Class A peace officer license with the Missouri Department of Public Safety. He joined the Independence Police Department on May 30, 2017, one year prior to the accident.
Officer Jack Taylor, a police spokesman, chose not to disclose whether Steele resigned or was terminated. Steele departed on August 17, 2022, approximately three years following the crash.
Unfortunately, Steele was unavailable for comment on this story.
The attorneys who represented Steele in the civil lawsuit filed by the Adams family have chosen not to provide any comments.
Mounting medical bills, lost income
Adams recalled the collision occurring in a split second, leaving her with only a few fleeting memories before the impact. One such memory was a brief conversation she had with her daughter just moments before the crash.
The world turned to darkness as the SUV raced towards them.
After she regained consciousness in the hospital, Adams faced the daunting task of relearning how to speak. The strain on her vocal cords had left her unable to utter a single word.
Despite her ongoing struggle with walking and standing for extended periods of time, these physical limitations have greatly impacted her job performance at the radiology department in Swope Health Center on Blue Parkway.
Due to fatigue and throbbing pain in her legs, she is only able to work for approximately six hours per day.
“After a long day at work, I come home with a swollen leg, leaving me unable to do anything for the rest of the day,” she expressed.
Adams brings home less money when working fewer hours.
During her recovery period, Tranae received homeschooling to ensure she could continue her education while recuperating from her injuries.
The teachers at Raytown Middle School went out of their way to support her education by bringing over homework assignments and ensuring she didn’t lag behind in her classes.
Tranae’s medical records are extensive, spanning a total of 25 pages. Within these records, there are detailed accounts of various expenses, including a noteworthy $22,000 for a surgical procedure that was carried out the day after the accident.
Three days later, an additional operation was performed, which resulted in a cost of $96,480. In addition to this, there were other medical expenses incurred, including $2,271 for a pediatric hip plate and approximately $1,600 for physical therapy sessions.
Adams had personal insurance to cover her medical expenses, although it did not cover all of them.
Adams recalled that she has lost count of the exact amount she had to pay out of her own pocket. However, she distinctly remembers spending $200 to rent a wheelchair prior to her discharge from the hospital.
Driving often brings thoughts of the crash to her mind.
“I often find myself driving home from work, only to look down and notice that my hands are trembling,” she revealed. “And when it’s dark outside, the anxiety worsens, especially when I see headlights approaching. It’s as if my mind transports me back to the hospital, and I feel overwhelmed with fear.”
Lawsuit settlement doesn’t cover costs
In November 2019, Adams initiated a lawsuit against Steele and the Independence Police Department, accusing them of negligent and reckless driving.
The lawsuit claims that Steele violated the Police Department’s pursuit policy by initiating the chase without obtaining approval from his supervisors. It alleges that Steele’s failure to end the chase exposed the public to unreasonable danger.
In 2021, the family reached a settlement with the city for $441,130. This amount represents the maximum limit allowed under Missouri’s sovereign immunity law, which imposes a cap on the payout government entities are obligated to make in liability cases.
According to state law, the judge in civil cases must determine that the settlement amount is fair and reasonable before granting approval.
According to the vehicle pursuit policy of the Independence Police Department, officers have the authority to engage in a vehicle pursuit when they suspect that a suspect is attempting to evade detention or arrest. However, officers are also instructed to consider the safety of the public and are encouraged to end the pursuit if there is a potential risk to the public’s well-being.
According to Dustman, the police officers conducted 13,850 vehicle stops in 2022, with approximately 2% of those stops comprising 330 pursuits.
Dustman issued a warning to those who attempt to disrupt the peaceful way of life in Independence, including residents and visitors alike. He emphasized that any involvement in criminal activities will not be tolerated and those responsible will be held accountable.
Geoffery P. Alpert, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, has dedicated over three decades to researching police pursuits. According to his findings, car chases pose a higher risk and are more life-threatening compared to other methods of force employed by law enforcement officers.
According to Alpert, engaging in these activities can be risky, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid them altogether. Rather, it’s important to set limits and exercise caution. Alpert’s personal threshold is drawn at violent crimes, where risking lives becomes unacceptable. However, if a serious offense has occurred and a pursuit is underway, then the situation changes.
He emphasized the importance of making decisions based on the information available at the time regarding the individuals who are fleeing.
Looking into the future
Adams reminisces about a time when their lives were brimming with endless possibilities, before the wreck occurred.
Adams and her family loved going to the amusement park, bowling, exercising, and spending their afternoons strolling or unwinding in the park. Tranae, in particular, had a passion for volleyball and frequently indulged in roller skating.
Adams expressed her aspirations for herself and her family to lead a life that is not constrained by pain or limitations.
Adams expressed her belief that the Independence Police Department and city leaders have disregarded the potential risks associated with officers engaging in pursuits for minor infractions.
“They refuse to accept any blame or take responsibility for the pursuit,” she remarked. “That is precisely why we had to put up such a fierce fight to obtain even a small portion, as they adamantly claimed it was not their fault.”
“I’m really disappointed with him (Mead) for trying to evade the police,” expressed Adams. “However, I also hold the police accountable for pursuing him on the icy surface, which ultimately forced him into running. It was to such an extent that they chased him all the way from Independence to the heart of the city.”
How we reported this
In March, two innocent bystanders lost their lives in a tragic police chase incident that occurred in Independence. This incident prompted Star reporters to dig deeper into the issue of law enforcement pursuits in the Kansas City area. Over the course of the next nine months, our dedicated team filed over 140 public records requests with more than 60 local law enforcement agencies across the metro. Our goal was to gather valuable information, including police pursuit policies and documents that documented chases, crashes, and injuries over a span of five years.
Reporters obtained investigative case files from serious and fatal wrecks, which included dashboard camera recordings. They also reviewed court documents from lawsuits and legal settlements. In total, the team examined over 4,500 pages of documents, enabling them to identify patterns in police pursuits and practices in the metro area.
In their investigation, the journalists conducted interviews with over 60 individuals. This diverse group included innocent bystanders who had been injured in police chases, families who had lost loved ones in pursuit-related accidents, police officials, attorneys, and academics with extensive knowledge on the subject. The reporters even had the opportunity to speak with a person currently serving a prison sentence for causing a fatal crash during a police chase back in 2018.
The project consists of a series of eight stories, accompanied by videos of interviews and crashes, along with infographics that depict the extent of police pursuits in the metro area.