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CHP officer killed during high-speed pursuit

June 11, 2010 12:37:21 AM PDT
A California Highway Patrol motorcycle officer died after crashing during a police pursuit in San Bernardino County on Friday morning. Authorities said officer Tom Coleman was attempting to pull a silver Ford Focus over for a traffic violation in the city of Redlands at 6:28 a.m., but the car sped off, traveling at speeds reaching 100 mph.

The suspects traveled eastbound on San Bernardino Avenue near Nevada Street, but during the pursuit, Coleman collided with the side of a big rig at the intersection of San Bernardino Avenue and Alabama Street.

The suspects crashed on the side of the road at Lugonia Avenue near the Citrus Plaza a short time later and attempted to flee on foot, but CHP officers were able to capture four suspects.

Coleman, 33, was declared dead at the scene. A red tarp was placed over the flag-draped body, and police blocked the street where the accident occurred for hours.

Coleman was only on his shift for an hour-and-a-half when the incident began. He was a seven-year veteran of the CHP and leaves behind a wife and two children.

"A fine officer ... it's very difficult. We're all brothers and sisters, so it's difficult when an incident like this occurs," said CHP officer Mario Lopez.

Speeds during the pursuit reached 100 miles an hour.

The suspect and officer flew by driver James Brock, who saw the crash seconds later.

"The Focus kind of went through the intersection and just missed the semi kind of went sideways and continued down San Bernardino Avenue, and that's when the officer went through the intersection and hit the side of the semi, and immediately the motorcycle caught on fire, and as I pulled up to the scene, I got out of the car and everyone was like, 'Oh my God, what just happened?'," said Brock. "It was a pretty sad scene."

Brock said the big-rig in the intersection did have a green light, but probably couldn't hear the CHP motorcycle approaching from his left.

"He did have his sirens and his lights on, but I could hear them until he got right next to me, so I'm almost positive that truck could not hear unless he was looking to his left to see the lights coming," said Brock.

As for the suspect vehicle, it crashed a mile down the road. Four occupants were taken into custody, and now have to answer for the tragic scene they left behind them.

"It makes me feel better that those guys are behind bars, where they should be," said Brock.

Several CHP officers gathered around the body for a moment of silence, and then saluted as the officer's body was carried onto a van and escorted away from the scene.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger released a statement: "Officer Tom Coleman was an outstanding officer who demonstrated his dedication and selflessness through his hard work in the line of duty." All flags will be flown at half-staff at the Capitol.

The accident is the second this week in which a CHP motorcycle officer was seriously injured. Another officer was injured on Wednesday when a driver speeding on a freeway shoulder on the 405 Freeway slammed into a CHP officer, pinning him to the car he had pulled over. The officer remains in critical condition.

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