MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Newly released dash cam video shows the moments before and after a deadly police chase that started in Coconut Creek and ended in Margate.
The video, obtained by CBS4 News under a public records request, is raising troubling questions about whether the police violated their policies in conducting the chase that left an 18-year-old woman dead.
The officers involved in the chase have now been reassigned as the department begins an internal investigation into their actions.
Meanwhile, as the family of Abigail Espinoza, the passenger in the car being chased by police, prepare to bury her this weekend, they say they are still trying to determine what happened.
The chase and crash, which was first reported by CBS4 News, started in the parking lot of an apartment complex shortly after midnight on Friday December 1.
A Coconut Creek police officer spotted the car, considered it suspicious, and when he approached the car he said he saw the driver was holding what appeared to be a jar with marijuana inside. The driver of the car sped off and the officer gave chase.
As other officers joined in, they attempted a rolling roadblock which failed as the car made a U-turn on Sample. The Buick then turned south on Rock Island.
Although the posted speed limit was either 35 or 40 – the speed of the police cars were in excess of 70 miles per hour – with the police cars often not using lights or sirens.
After several miles, the Buick spun out of control and slammed into another car. As officers arrived it was evident the seriousness of the crash.
The audio from the dash cams reveal one of the officers approaching the driver, asking about his passenger.
“Hey talk to me,” the officer says. “What’s her name?”
The driver, Fabreece Ductan, was dazed but responsive.
“Abby,” he said.
“Abby,” the officer calls out, trying to see if the young woman was conscious. “Abby.”
Espinoza, however, was in far worse shape.
“I don’t know if we should pull her out or what,” one of the officers is heard telling another.
“Abby hang in there, alright,” another officer says. “We’re going to get you out of there.”
When paramedics arrive the officers yell for them to hurry.
“Extraction,” one of the officers yells to firefighters, noting Espinoza was pinned in the car. “We’ve got to get her out. She needs to go ASAP.”
As the paramedics approach, one of the officers repeats: “Guys we need extraction on her ASAP! She might have stopped breathing right now.”
Ductan, who is 19, and has a previous arrest for marijuana possession, was able to get out of the car and walk on his own power. As paramedics pulled Espinoza from the vehicle and wheel her to the ambulance, Ductan seemed oblivious, either still in shock or not wanting to look at the dying teen.
The day after the crash, Espinoza’s family visited the scene, obviously heartbroken. Espinoza’s cousin, Cindy Garcia, said the family was devastated.
“She was 18,” Garcia said, fighting back tears. “She just graduated high school this year. She was really fun. She was happy. It doesn’t seem real. I’ve been waiting all day for a text from her that I’m never going to get again.”
The family said they are still looking for answers.
According to the pursuit policy of the Coconut Creek Police Department, high speed pursuits are only supposed to occur if the fleeing individual committed a violent felony. Possession of marijuana would not qualify under departmental guidelines.
The only exception is if “there is reasonable belief the fleeing driver poses an imminent threat of physical harm to the public.”
Rocco Favata, the officer who made the initial contact with the Buick in the apartment parking lot, claimed in his incident report that he could tell the driver was impaired. “This behavior gave me grave concern that the driver posed an imminent threat of physical harm to the public,” Favata wrote.
The language used by Favata mirrors the language in the policy.
It is not clear how long after the incident Favata wrote his account of the incident or if he was counseled by anyone to use those precise words.
Nevertheless, the dash cam video raises doubts about how attentive Favata was regarding what was taking place inside the Buick before the chase. After the crash, Favata is heard saying he certain there were three people in the car. In fact, there were only two.
The decision to chase a drunk or impaired driver is highly controversial within law enforcement. Some experts believe chasing an impaired driver creates a greater likelihood of a high speed crash.
In addition, CBS4 News has learned some of the Coconut Creek officers involved in this pursuit were previously suspended for engaging in an improper pursuit more than a year ago.
“We have to give our supervisors and our officers some discretion to use but we ultimately make a determination on whether the pursuit policy was followed and whether procedure was followed,” Coconut Creek Police Chief Butch Arenal said.
Arenal also addressed the speeds the officers were driving — nearly twice the posted speed limit.
“Always high speeds are concerning in any situation but that’s the very nature of pursuits and people that flee the police,” he said.
The chief also discussed the lights and sirens not being activated on at least some of the vehicles during parts of the chase.
“I know there were certain instances in there in which they weren’t,” he explained. “There could be a reason. I want to hear what that reason is before I make a determination on what they did. Because these procedures are fluid but I will tell you this, as an administrator I want lights and sirens on when you’re pursuing. Without question.”
We also asked Chief Arenal whether the police pursuit might have led to the deadly crash. He said absolutely not. He said the blame for Espinoza’s death lies with Fabreece Ductan.
“There’s one person responsible for that poor innocent dead girl and that is the driver of that vehicle,” he said. “One person.”
Espinoza’s funeral will be held this weekend.
“It’s like a part of us left us,” Espinoza’s cousin, Cindy Garcia said. “Things won’t be the same.”