LEOMINSTER, Mass. — She was on her commute back home to Fitchburg that January night last year when Sarah Stevens says her life was changed.
The 30-year-old emergency room nurse stopped at the Wendy’s on N. Main Street in Leominster following a 12-hour shift at Lowell General and was exiting the parking lot when, she says, the sudden and violent impact happened. An unmarked state police cruiser slammed into the driver’s side of her Ford Focus.
The January 29, 2020 crash totaled her car and shattered her body.
“I know that I was in the coma for about a week. I fractured my shoulder, had eight broken ribs, a lacerated liver, a bleeding kidney,” recalled Stevens. “I had brain bleeds, a dissected carotid artery. They also had to go in and put a coil in my kidney to stop the bleeding.”
Documents obtained by 25 Investigates through a public records request reveal Trooper Kyle Buckley left Fitchburg to join a pursuit that began some 27 miles away in Worcester. Trooper Buckley’s Ford Explorer was equipped with a tire deflation device known as stop sticks and the car being chased was registered to a man with a “propensity of violence towards police”, according to the report.
As he came through Leominster at 11:53 p.m., Stevens was pulling out of the Wendy’s. Data pulled from the cruiser indicates Trooper Buckley “was traveling 66 miles per hour over the posted speed limit” just seconds before the violent collision.
“I did not see him coming. I was pulling out onto the road,” Stevens told investigative reporter Ted Daniel, adding that she was in disbelief when she learned how fast the trooper was driving. “I don’t see any reason for anyone to be going that fast on a 35 mile per hour zone.”
And neither does Jonathan Farris, whose son Paul was killed in Somerville by a man who was being chased by state police through residential neighborhoods in 2007.
“At least a person a day is killed in a pursuit. There’s no policies or no tracking of that that’s just the best guesstimate,” Farris said. ‘It’s important that the public understand what’s going on out there.” Farris runs an organization called Pursuit for Change.
He shares his son’s story across the country to bring attention to the dangers associated with high-speed pursuits.
Massachusetts State Police tightened its pursuit policy after Paul’s death.
Part of it says “necessity of the apprehension” must outweigh the “risk created by the pursuit.”
Troopers and their supervisors are supposed to consider a number of factors before engaging in a pursuit, including “probability of apprehension,” “offense” the person is wanted for and “speed and driving behavior.”
A video from April of this year posted on the Mass State Police YouTube page shows the policy in action.
A supervisor tells troopers chasing a car for a missing front license plate to back-off when speeds reach near 100 mph.
Former Boston Police Chief Dan Linskey, a Boston 25 News Law Enforcement analyst, says policy is just paper when it’s not enforced.
“When the adrenaline starts to flow you forget the dangers that occur,” Linskey told 25 Investigates. “If frontline supervisors aren’t having that conversation, we’re not going to change the culture in policing. We can often get them into custody without endangering the public.”
In the crash involving Sarah Stevens, a state police investigation found the “collision would have been avoidable had the cruiser been traveling at a lower rate of speed.”
State police cited trooper Buckley for negligent operation, speeding and failure to wear a seatbelt.
A crash review document shows a state police major initially found trooper Buckley not a fault for the incident. But that decision was overturned by a division commander.
25 Investigates pulled his driving records and found only the speeding and seatbelt violations were upheld in court.
In addition to the traffic violations, Buckley received a negative Supervisory Observation Report in his file.
25 Investigates tried reaching Trooper Buckley by email but we were unsuccessful.
We also reached out to state police for comment. By email, a state police spokesman says the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
The violent crash still haunts Stevens. The accident left her with some serious, long-term complications.
“It is unlikely any obstetrician will allow me to give natural birth,” she says. “I’ve got a different perspective on life and it’s very clear life can be very short.”
Stevens filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth in Worcester Superior Court seeking damages for the injuries she sustained.
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