The tragic and senseless death of a Lawrence woman who died when the car she was driving was struck by a motorist fleeing from Lawrence police has saddened and angered many local residents.
Although the investigation of the accident isn't complete and the police record of the motorist involved in the chase and crash still is somewhat unclear, there is no question the driver should be prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law.
It has been reported the driver had a record of previous arrests in greater Kansas City. He pleaded guilty to theft and marijuana possession charges in Oct. 2001. He also was charged with felony drug possession with intent to sell in August 2002, but those charges were dismissed. A civil lawsuit also is pending against him in connection with several car break-ins in May 2001.
The message to those who might consider coming to Lawrence to buy or sell drugs, to engage in questionable or unlawful activities or merely to cruise the town looking for action, should be that if they are caught breaking the law, local law enforcement officials, prosecutors and the court system will vigorously enforce the law. Lawrence should be known as a great place in which to live, work and play but also as a city that doesn't welcome people looking for trouble.
At this time, few, if any, people other than the driver fleeing police have any idea why he was in Lawrence and why he was driving dangerously on Kansas Highway 10 and later through downtown Lawrence, on West Sixth Street, on Kasold Drive and down 31st Street. Why was he trying so hard to stay away from police?
Whatever the reason, he ended up killing an innocent woman, a nurse who had helped and brought comfort to many newborn babies and their parents.
It is essential that every facet of this case be closely examined and that the accused motorist be accorded every right under the law. Likewise, police officials should examine their own actions to make sure they followed the department's policy on police chases.
If the police acted correctly, and the fatal wreck is determined to be the fault of the speeding motorist, there should be a quick, no-nonsense trial with prosecutors using all of their skills to gain a conviction with the stiffest possible penalty.
Lawrence cannot afford to become a playground for those intent on breaking the law or eager to test the resolve of local law enforcement officials. Examples have to be made to get this message out, loud and clear, to anyone thinking of coming to Lawrence to raise hell and break the law.