The Maryland Attorney General’s Office released its investigative report Tuesday regarding a fatal police chase of a motorist who had been driving “erratically” on Interstate 95 through Harford and Cecil counties on New Year’s Eve.
The release of the report, which was completed in late April, comes more than two weeks after the Cecil County State’s Attorney’s Office declined to bring charges in the Dec. 31 pursuit, which led to the death of the 26-year-old motorist, Julie Elizabeth Clark of Tenafly, New Jersey. The attorney general’s office’s Independent Investigations Division, which probes fatal encounters with police in Maryland, released dash camera footage of the crash in January.
The report concludes that Maryland State Police Trooper Kurtis Manuel, who pursued Clark’s vehicle until she crashed into a tree, “largely complied with” the agency’s vehicle pursuit policy, and available evidence would not support criminal or traffic charges against him.
Manuel was dispatched shortly after noon to seek a white minivan that 911 callers reported was operated by a woman who was “throwing things out of her car and screaming and swerving into different lanes” as well as “hanging outside her vehicle,” according to the report.
The review notes that the Tenafly Police Department “provided numerous police reports to the IID” regarding Clark, who officers encountered at a convenience store Dec. 28 and noted she was “emotionally upset but did not appear to be a danger to herself or others.”
The report says Manuel stationed his unmarked vehicle south of the Chesapeake Travel Plaza on northbound I-95, pulling onto the roadway when Clark’s vehicle passed.
The pursuit lasted about nine minutes and spanned 14 miles of I-95, with both vehicles driving over 100 mph and crossing multiple lanes for a majority of the chase. At one point, Manuel told radio dispatchers that he’d “be surprised” if Clark didn’t crash.
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As the chase progressed toward a toll booth at the Delaware state line, Clark drove onto the Maryland Route 279 exit and crashed into a reflective traffic control post, then struck two trees, according to the report, citing a crash reconstruction that also determined the minivan was traveling at 111 mph five seconds before the crash, and Clark attempted to use the brakes, bringing the speed down to 56 mph.
The crash itself is not visible on the dash camera footage due to fog. Manuel immediately pulled over and called for EMS and fire services, as the minivan was on fire and wrapped around the tree.
Paramedics arrived eight minutes after the crash, according to the report. Clark died at the scene. A standard autopsy did not detect drugs or alcohol. Additional toxicology testing requested by the IID found THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, in her bloodstream, but the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner could not determine if she was impaired at the time of the crash.
The IID concluded Manuel “largely complied” with state police policies on pursuits, which can be started for “significant reckless/disoriented driving actions ... that could cause an imminent danger to the public.”
The report says state police reviewing the crash found the pursuit to be justified, but noted Manuel did not receive “explicit authorization” to chase the vehicle, although a corporal had acknowledged the trooper’s statements on the radio. A lieutenant noted Manuel repeatedly drove on the left and right shoulders of the highway, concluding his tactics “may not be standard; however, they were undoubtedly reasonable and necessary.”
The IID does not decide on filing criminal charges, as a bill granting the attorney general’s office prosecution authority in fatal police encounters does not take effect until October.
The office noted in the report that evidence from the crash does not support the groundwork for manslaughter charges against Manuel, as well as traffic offenses such as reckless driving. The Cecil County State’s Attorney’s Office declined to bring charges in the matter within days of receiving the attorney general’s report earlier this month, according to the IID.