MIAMI (CBSMiami) – An Opa-locka Police Officer’s radio transmission moments before a wrong-way driver took four lives on I-95 raises troubling questions.
It appears from the radio transmission that the officer, 26-year-old Corporal Sergio Perez, had actually followed the wrong-way driver on to the highway and was going against traffic as well.
“He is going against traffic on I 95. We’re going northbound in the southbound lanes of I-95,” Perez said in his transmission.
He also said that the suspect, 25-year-old Willie Dumel, threw his gun out of his window.
“The subject threw as 55 on 95 and Ives Dairy out of the window,” he said, adding, “Oh My God.” This was moments before the crash happened at 1 a.m. Wednesday just north of Ives Dairy Road.
That radio transmission was contrary to what the Assistant City Manager David Chiverton had said on Wednesday. He was told that Perez told investigators that he stopped his pursuit before getting on the highway.
“It is my understanding that the pursuit was stopped on 203rd Street,” Chiverton had said.
Chiverton said Perez had been with the Opa-locka Police Department for the past six years. He said Perez is on administrative leave pending the investigation and neither Perez nor his attorney is allowed to speak about this case.
Perez is being represented by his union: the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association.
In a news conference outside the Opa-locka Police Department late Thursday afternoon, Chiverton said he had reached “no conclusion” about what happened in this case and would not say if Perez had violated any policies.
He said investigators were still looking into what happened. Chiverton released a police report which said that Dumel had made an “improper right hand turn.”
Chiverton also released a copy of police policy on pursuits.
The incident raises some new questions about police pursuits.
Like officers in most police departments in Miami-Dade, officers in Opa-locka are only allowed to pursue suspects when a serious crime is involved, such as a murder, rape or robbery in progress. They are not allowed to pursue people for traffic infractions.
After making an improper right hand turn, Dumel when spotted by police then took off, driving towards I-95. He got off the highway and then, according to police, he got back on the highway going northbound in the southbound lanes.
The crash happened just north of Ives Dairy Road when the Suburban struck and demolished a mini-van.
The victims included Albertson Almase, 31, and his 26-year-old sister Kristina Almase, who were both from Fort Lauderdale, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
FHP says Almase was in the U.S. Navy and says Kristina Almase was also in the military.
CBS4’s Peter D’Oench spoke with a witness who heading home to North Miami Beach with his wife at 1 a.m. and was just behind the victims’ mini-van when the crash happened.
“It all happened so quickly,” said Jeff Kopelman. We saw a vehicle driving northbound in the southbound lanes. In just two to four seconds it was coming our way and boom. We heard a loud crash. We saw smoke and fire.”
“We saw the SUV lift up and go off the ground and then tumble over and end up on the side of the road,” he said. “We were right behind them and had it been another 10 seconds max, it could have been us.”
D’Oench asked Kopelman if he saw a police car on the highway.
“The answer to that question is no I did not,” he said. “I’m here to say I want to give police the benefit of the doubt. I believe whatever they did they were trying to fulfill their responsibility.”