Letter: Why are excessive speeds still allowed?

Writing this letter does not come easy for me, but I believe it’s necessary. The front-page story in last week’s Rappahannock News regarding the high speed chase through Rappahannock County, on heavily traveled U.S. 211, dredged up horrific memories of an accident 11 years ago . . . for me, and no doubt for countless others of our friends, neighbors and family. Not only because it impacted our family so profoundly, but because it could have involved any one, or more than one, of us.

Granted, the speeding motorcyclist in question in last week’s paper, justifiably punished for evading a police officer, should have been punished. No doubt. My issue is with the regulation that allowed the officer to pursue him at speeds reaching 140 miles per hour (by his own admission), putting all of us at risk. No clear “life or death situation” was at stake. This was not an isolated case. I recall a similar high speed chase through the back roads of Rappahannock a few years back; an equally, if not more, dangerous event . . .

Our family has – I always have – held law-enforcement and other first-response personnel in the highest regard. I still do. We have the greatest respect for them all. We have many good friends in the public safety field. My husband was a paid firefighter for many years. Theirs is a close community who generally hold each other to a higher standard. That’s why I don’t understand why these excessive speeds are still allowed.

When my father was killed by a state trooper driving at a dangerously high rate of speed through the county 11 years ago, the officer was racing from Sperryville to an accident in Fauquier County, approximately 25 miles from his starting point. It was so unnecessary. My family had wanted the regulation (the one that allows officers to drive at those speeds when the accident or event is not a critical one) changed. My mother’s frail health following my dad’s death, and our basic reluctance to “make waves” quelled that effort.

I would like to see that regulation revisited. It’s just the right thing to do. At the very least, I would like to see Rappahannock County push to restrict the speed of responding officers in our county . . . unless, as I have stated, it is in fact a “life-or-death situation,” and no one else is available to assist. Sometimes that’s a judgment call. In the event of the speeding motorcyclist, I believe that both parties used poor judgment, and both were irresponsible.

Fire and rescue personnel respond to critical situations every day where death is often a distinct possibility, yet we don’t see them traveling at dangerously high speeds. The reason? Probably the knowledge that they’ll be of no use to the subject of their response if they are delayed by an accident on the way to the scene. They, as well as most law enforcement officers, don’t want to create more victims on their way to support others. They’re to be applauded.

When a fatal accident like my dad’s occurs, there are no winners. The family and friends of the deceased most certainly will never be the same, but the officer’s family, and, yes, the officer, will have to live with the knowledge that he may have killed an innocent person for no justifiable reason. It is not comforting to think that some individuals who are charged with keeping us from harm may actually, in the case of chasing speeders at excessive speeds, be putting us all in harm’s way.

The citizens of Rappahannock, when using the county roadways, deserve to feel safe. I value all of them, including the state trooper in the article last week, and appreciate the opportunity to get this off my chest.

Jan Makela

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