When police chases turn deadly for the media

Let me preface my remarks by saying that it really is awful that [four people were killed when two Phoenix TV station helicopters collided while covering a police car chase there.][1]That said: Is anybody really surprised this happened?We have CNN on in the office near constantly, and sometimes they depart from regular programming to carry live coverage of a chase somewhere around the country. How this counts as "national" news, I don't know - but I confess that I've given them my attention a few times. So I'm not going to pull the righteous bit, stick my nose up in the air, and talk about how TV news copters shouldn't be involved in these matters - one definition of news is "whatever's interesting," and car chases are certainly interesting. Otherwise, there's a whole bunch of movies that never would've been made.But: Enough's enough.I gather from the coverage that there were six helicopters following the chase: one from the police, the rest from local TV stations. I'm no aviation expert, but that seems to me to be too many aircraft, piloted by too many people paying attention to what's going on on the ground and not each other, crammed into too small a space.I'm sure there are protocols to protect against such accidents. But it's amazing, in those CNN shots, how often you see other helicopters crossing the path of the helicopter bringing you the video.This is not necessary.The media have a longstanding tradition of covering events that everybody wants, but only one or two reporters can get into: It's called the "pool." Essentially, one reporter is designated to take notes on an event, then bring back the notes to all the other reporters so they can make their reports. This happens all the time in local courts: only one video camera is usually allowed, so the designated "pool" camera distributes the video to all the competing stations.For the sake of public and media safety,the pool system should be applied to covering car chases.In every market where there are two or more stations with helicopters, those stations should band together. They could divvy up chases based on day, or area of the city, or any other criteria. But they could definitely reduce the number of aircraft jostling for the same space.I don't think this will happen. Stations spend too much money buying and promoting their helicopters that they won't want to give an inch to the other guy.These accidents will happen again, though. But it's not because there isn't a solution available. [1]: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2007/jul...


Joel 10 years, 4 months ago


I'm not endorsing the legal theory, only trying to explain it.

Keith 10 years, 4 months ago

Armed helicopters are polite helicopters. I'm just sayin....

DOTDOT 10 years, 4 months ago

Does this look like a publicity stunt orchestrated by the Bush administration via the CIA (or maybe even FEMA)?

I'm just asking.

Aileen Dingus 10 years, 4 months ago

OK- I have a question about this. There's talk that the guy all the choppers were following will be charged with the deaths of the people in the ones that crashed. However, the FAA has said this: "Typically air traffic controllers clear helicopters into an area where they can cover a chase like this," Gregor told AP. "Once they are in the area, the pilots themselves are responsible for keeping themselves separated from other aircraft.""

So- did I read that right- the pilots are responsible.

I understand proximate cause and all, but is this really the case here?

Joel 10 years, 4 months ago

On an aviation level, I'd be surprised to think that pilots aren't responsible for their craft.

On a legal level, I've covered several cases where chases resulted in murder or manslaughter charges - even though, as is the case here, the chasee wasn't directly responsible for the deaths.

Is that the question you're asking?

Aileen Dingus 10 years, 4 months ago

I was just wondering how they could possibly charge the "chasee" with the deaths when the FAA itself said the pilots are responsible. I can see if he shot at the helicopters or ran into them somehow, but all he was was the fox to their hounds.

Joel 10 years, 4 months ago

As I understand it, the legal theory is that those helicopter pilots wouldn't have been right next to each other at that moment in time if not for the actions of the chasee. He set in motion the chain of events, so he bears responsibility for the outcome -- even if the outcome wasn't intended, or even directly caused by the chasee.

Are there any lawyers reading? Can they shed light on this?

Shelby 10 years, 4 months ago

I guess I would have assumed, based on the crux of your op-ed piece above, Joel, that you would agree with Dazie on purely a common sense level. Was the chasee responsible for cultivating a societal atmosphere of adrenaline junky-ism made vicariously possible through the media? No, I don't think anybody could say that.

An attorney, though....

Still, if a guy murders a pregnant woman, is he responsible for the death of the unborn child? Perhaps it's not entirely analogous.

DOTDOT 10 years, 4 months ago

I hereby indict the butterfly that flapped it's wings in China.

Doug 10 years, 4 months ago

I think one thing that is going to happen within the next year or so, is the FAA is going to regulate the work a pilot can do in a news helicopter.

For both of these stations, the chopper pilot also served as the on-air reporter. I think, upon further review, the FAA is going to rule that trying to perform both tasks is probably what lead to the crash. It's like talking on your cell phone while driving, only a hundred times more risky.

So, look for news choppers to be required to carry both a pilot and a reporter if the station wants to do live reports from the air.

Terry Bush 10 years, 3 months ago

I'm no criminal prosecutor OR personal injury lawyer - so I'm not much help on the legal aspects of such a situation. Just law school 101 knowledge.

Normally, a criminal felony offense can be charged if someone engages in a felonious criminal act and the other negative outcomes of that act are reasonably foreseeable (e.g. If you rob a bank while using guns, it's reasonably foreseeable that someone may get shot and killed while that's happening - and they may be charged with what is called felony murder), then the prosecutors may in fact charge the fleeing man with additional charges. It may depend upon how that state's criminal laws are written.

With regard to personal injury (i.e. when/if the helicopter passenger's next of kin sue everyone involved), Dazie is right - it's a proximate cause kind of thing. And duty. A tort is a violation of a duty imposed by law. The cases often turn on whether there is some legal duty to do (or avoid) certain actions, and whether failure to do (or not do) that thing proximately caused the harm done another. It's also important to research what state laws are going to be applied (e.g. some state courts are much more friendly towards injured plaintiffs).

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