Deadly NJ police chases kill innocent victims, catch few crooks

Andrew Ford, Asbury Park Press
Deadly NJ police chases kill innocent victims, catch few crooks

New Jersey police pursuits killed at least 55 people in the past decade and injured more than 2,500. Nearly half the people injured were bystanders and cops.

New Jersey ranks second in the nation behind Louisiana for the percentage of African Americans killed during police pursuits since 2009, an Asbury Park Press and USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey investigation found. New Jersey leads the nation over the last 20 years.

Newark police car chases killed black residents at a higher rate than any other city in the country, the last decade of federal fatal crash data shows. Thirteen people were killed in Newark pursuits, nine were not in the car police were chasing. One was a three-year-old boy. All were black.

Most chases in the last two years didn’t arrest a suspect. Even when cops catch a fleeing driver, they’re most frequently charged with drug possession. People fleeing the police are rarely robbers or wanted killers, the Network found after reviewing more than 66,000 state arrest records on people fleeing from cops.

Dig Deeper: NJ police chases are killing innocent people. Here's how to make them safer.

New Jersey’s written policy has acknowledged for decades that most chases start with traffic violations. The rules say cops aren’t allowed to chase cars for motor vehicle offenses, with one important and broad exception: Police can chase if an officer feels the vehicle “is being operated so as to pose an immediate threat to the safety of another person.”

That one-sentence exception allows cops to engage in dangerous, high-speed chases that start with even the smallest traffic infraction, like an illegal right on red. Traffic violations prompted at least 23 fatal pursuits, law enforcement records show.

“I think that it is ridiculous that police are allowed to chase people for violations that are trivial in the grand scheme of things,” said Taylor Bromberg, whose fiancé, Eric Larson, was killed in Jackson by a motorcycle fleeing police after the motorcyclist failed to stop when turning right at a red light.

To understand New Jersey police pursuits, the Network reviewed more than 5,000 pages of police chase summary reports to compile 10 years of data on the state’s 466 municipal police departments.

The Network also analyzed more than four million New Jersey state court arrest records, 1.3 million fatal crash records from the federal government and state data on police pursuits. The Network conducted dozens of interviews that included law enforcement experts, police, lawmakers and people affected by the aftermath of police chases.

New Jersey state Sen. Ron Rice, D-Essex, whose district includes Newark, called for a legislative hearing to investigate police pursuits after he reviewed the Network’s key findings.

“It appears to me there’s a lot more harm done than good right now,” Rice said.

In its investigation, the Network found:

  • Few arrests. Arrests following police car chases dropped over the past decade, police pursuit summary reports show. More than half the police car chases in the last two years didn't end with an arrest. Police experts suggest cops are increasingly stopping chases early so as not to cause a crash. The suspects could also have evaded capture. The police summary reports don’t say why a chase ended.
  • Police car chases seldom catch violent criminals. Even when a fleeing suspect is caught, one in five is charged with just a single count of eluding — the legal term for fleeing the police. Two out of three eluders are not charged with a crime the FBI tracks as violent, like murder, aggravated assault, robbery or rape. The remaining third were most often charged with assault on police officers, but most of those charges were dismissed later in court.
  • Leading the nation for racial disparity in deaths. African Americans are 15 percent of New Jersey’s population, yet accounted for 65 percent of the people killed in police pursuits since 2009, where race was known, according to federal crash data. New Jersey is trailed by Georgia, Delaware and Maryland, states with a much higher percentage of black residents. The Network found that since 1999, when the federal data started recording race in crashes, New Jersey has the largest disparity of any state in the nation for the death of black residents during police chases. 
  • Flawed records. Pursuits killed scores of people in New Jersey and injured at least 2,568 since 2009, according to government records. The Network found the counts of police chase casualties differ between local, state and federal records. After the publication of this story, the attorney general’s office announced an error in their recordkeeping, reducing their figure on the death toll to 45. Federal crash data shows 51 deaths, the Network obtained records showing at least 55 deaths.
  • A problem in all states. People die in police pursuits more than once a day on average across the nation, federal crash data shows. Victims included 361 children since 2009. Thirty were 3 or younger. Most states have a higher rate of pursuit deaths per 100,000 residents than New Jersey. 

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said his office needed time to review the data presented by the Network. 

"I have not shied away from enforcing the pursuit policy," he said, noting that was a reason he took over The Palisades Interstate Parkway Police Department in 2017 when he served as Bergen County prosecutor.

He spoke to a reporter about pursuits at a press conference Dec. 4, where he announced a series of police accountability reforms, some of which address problems previously highlighted by the Network. He pointed to those reforms when asked about pursuits.

Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announces "Excellence in Policing" initiative to promote professionalism, accountability and transparency in law enforcement during a press conference at the New Jersey State Police Newark Troop D Station in Newark, NJ Wednesday, December 4, 2019.

“That's why we have the IA (internal affairs) process and we've made the guidelines more robust,” he said, “...any time there's a violation of a pursuit policy or any other (attorney general) guideline, that the IA process is used to address that misconduct or to review that conduct. By the same token, our Office of Public Integrity is there to hold those accountable who might violate those policies in a criminal way too." 

Grewal's office later issued a statement pointing to the Office of Policing Policy, a branch of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, which was tasked with reviewing attorney general directives and ensuring compliance. 

Police pursuits have “been something that law enforcement struggled with for a long time — you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t,” said Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose. “But you take into consideration, an officer that follows the guidelines, and the officers that do the job, it’s the behavior of the person that they’re pursuing that’s creating that type of environment.”

The president of the state’s largest police union declined to comment on pursuits when presented with the Network’s key findings.

When he was Milwaukee police chief, Edward Flynn saw a spike in police car chase deaths. To curb the deaths, in 2010 he limited the reasons his officers could go on chases.

“All the data indicates that it’s never worth it, almost never,” Flynn, said about police pursuits. He’s a former Jersey City officer with law enforcement experience in several states.

“When it comes to the issue of when police pursuits are appropriate, and for how long and at what level of risk, our moral obligation is to limit that potential for a bad outcome,” Flynn said. “And if that means limiting our officers’ willingness to be brave on the public behalf, sometimes we have to do that.”

More than half the dead in New Jersey were not in the car police were chasing, federal traffic fatality data shows. 

  • A delivery driver for the Trentonian newspaper and a student from The College of New Jersey were killed in 2010 after a cop in Ewing chased the student for speeding and driving recklessly.
  • An emergency medical technician and patient were fatally injured in Newark in 2012 when their ambulance was struck by a suspect fleeing police after officers spotted him “driving erratically.”
  • A 19-year-old passenger was killed in Bernards Township in Somerset County in 2015 after he was thrown from a car in a crash. Police chased the car because the vehicle’s registration was suspended.  

Pursuits hurt cops 

A heavily damaged Millville police cruiser rests near Broad and 3rd streets on Sunday morning, hours after a crash in which Officer Christopher Reeves was killed while on duty. Another officer in the car was seriously injured. Photo/Drew Eskridge Police cruiser crash in which Millville police officer Christopher Reeves was killed.

Susan Reeves’s husband was her backup.

The first time she chased a car as a Millville police officer, Patrolman Chris Reeves joined her. His car took the lead as she fell back to call out street names on the radio.

“We’ve always worked hand-in-hand,” Susan said.

Susan Reeves kisses her husband, Chris Reeves. He was killed during a pursuit in 2012.

They were wedded by law enforcement. They married shortly before they went into police academy and Chris’s soon-to-be sergeant signed as a witness on their marriage certificate.

Susan was the bolder officer. First one to run into a fight. 

She was more willing to chase cars. She figures she went on about a dozen pursuits.

Chris was more cautious.

“He always used to yell at me: Be careful,” Susan said. “What is wrong with you? Be careful...He was always preaching to me. And here he is. The careful one. And he gets in an accident.”

At least 553 New Jersey cops were injured in pursuits in the past 10 years, records show.

Chris is the only one who died.

He responded to help chase a drunk driver in July 2012.

The fleeing car was speeding about 72 m.p.h. when it crashed into the driver’s side of Chris’s patrol vehicle, fatally injuring him. 

The crash took two good cops off the road. 

Susan went back to work after she grieved, but she couldn't keep going. She worried about her son.

“I did stay on for a few years, but I got involved in some incidents where I was almost hurt…” she said. “I realized that I would leave him an orphan and that maybe my heart wasn't in it anymore.”

She left the department in 2015, about three years after Chris’s death. She’s now staying home, being a mom.

Millville Patrolman Christopher Reeves Officer Christopher Reeves

Years ago, she looked at pursuits as part of the job. 

Not anymore. 

“Pursuits just are not worth it,” she said. “They're dangerous. They're dangerous to everyone around them. They're dangerous to the officers.”

Unless the fleeing suspect represents an immediate threat to someone’s life, cops should avoid a car chase, Susan concluded.

“Listen, warrants ain't worth it. Traffic violations ain't worth it. You'll get the guy again. Let it go,” she said. “We need to change the way our policing is done.”

Cops rarely chase killers

Thirty-nine years later, John Whetsel still vividly recalled the day he was dispatched to a crash scene in Oklahoma City.

A police officer chased a fleeing motorcyclist up to 100 m.p.h. in a residential area, Whetsel said. The motorcycle crashed into a family’s car.

After 15 minutes at the scene, Whetsel realized: it was his family. 

His wife and daughter were killed. 

It’s a painful personal story from early in his career that Whetsel now uses in training programs. He’s a former Oklahoma police chief and sheriff who serves as the chair of the traffic safety committee of the National Sheriff’s Association.

He’ll ask cops training to chase cars: What are you willing to die for? What would be worth killing an innocent civilian? 

He feels some car chases are worth that risk. 

“I do think that you have to have the ability to pursue to arrest criminals,” Whetsel said. 

In June, police chased a Willingboro man suspected of killing his ex-girlfriend’s grandmother and brother through several counties. He was captured by Camden County police. 

In November, Absecon police chased four men later charged in connection to a shooting at a Pleasantville High School football game. 

But these chases represent a tiny fraction of the incidents in which people are fleeing New Jersey police, court records show. Out of 66,816 people accused of eluding police in the past four decades, 174 faced both a murder charge and an eluding charge. Seven were charged with murder prior to being accused of fleeing the cops.

More people were killed in pursuits in that time — federal data shows at least 201 dead in New Jersey.

Leading the nation for racial disparity

Umar King

Umar King, 33, was waiting at a bus stop after work. Keith Chipepo, 30, was an emergency medical technician riding in an ambulance. Rahmere Tullis, 3, was walking to his second day of pre-school.

They’re among at least 53 black people killed in police pursuits in New Jersey since 1999, according to federal data that depends on departments to file crash forms and thus might under-count the deaths. King’s death isn’t listed in the data as being related to a police pursuit, though police accused a man of causing his death while fleeing from cops.

In the same time, the data shows 29 white people were killed. 

That’s a larger disparity between black and white than any other state.

“The trend is terrible,” said Safeer Quraishi, administrative director for the New Jersey state conference of the NAACP, after reviewing the Network's key findings.

“The way that police pursuits are currently in New Jersey, they just don’t work for anybody,” he said. “They’re not achieving the goal of a police department, whose job is to protect and serve the individuals in their jurisdiction. And it’s providing a very specific group of individuals a reason to fear the police.”

Looking just at the cars police are choosing to chase, New Jersey still leads the nation for racial disparity in police pursuits. 

In the last 20 years, New Jersey police pursuits took the lives of 38 people who were riding in the car police were chasing, the data shows. Twenty-three of them were black. Six were white.

That’s a larger disparity than any other state. 

Set aside passengers who were killed and the gap remains.

Twelve of the fleeing drivers were black, five were white.

That’s a larger disparity than any other state.

“It suggests there’s a kind of devaluing of the lives of people of color in those communities, without — I don’t think — broad public conversation from the police department saying: listen folks, this is for your own safety,” Alex Shalom, senior supervising attorney for the ACLU in New Jersey, said of the Network’s findings.

“I don’t think there would be buy-in in those communities for policies of the widespread use of police chases if people knew that which you reveal in these data,” he added. “Which is that most folks are not going to be arrested. When they are arresting people, it’s seldom for violent crimes. That suggests that police should be thinking through wholesale changes to the way they conduct chases and frankly whether they’re conducting them at all in many instances.”

New Jersey's top rank for racial disparity in police chase deaths doesn't appear to be explained by the time of day of chases, crime rates, population demographics or density.

Newark provided figures that show in 2019, the victims and suspects of murders, aggravated assaults and robberies were usually black people. Murder victims and suspects were black more than 90 percent of the time.

In 49 states, including New Jersey, most pursuit deaths happened before 6 a.m. or after 6 p.m. — overnight hours when it might be hard to judge the race of a fleeing driver. New Jersey’s share of overnight pursuit deaths is lower than most states.

New Jersey’s police pursuit deaths cluster in cities like Newark, which has a large black population and a higher crime rate than the state. But compared to other cities since 2009, Newark leads the nation, with a pursuit death racial disparity bigger than Atlanta, Birmingham, Cleveland or Detroit, cities with higher violent crime rates and a larger percentage of black residents. 

POLICE CHASES: How to improve police pursuits in New Jersey

Newark is densely populated, but there’s little mathematic correlation between density and racial disparity in police chase deaths, a sample of 100 cities shows.

Setting aside cities where all the people killed were black, there appears to be some correlation between cities with large black populations and disparity in the police pursuit deaths, the 100-city sample shows.

But Newark isn’t the city with the greatest proportion of black residents.

So why does Newark lead the nation for racial disparity in police pursuits?

Former Milwaukee chief Edward Flynn and Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose urged a reporter to consider the demographics of the victims of crime.

Newark provided figures that show in 2019, the victims and suspects of murders, aggravated assaults and robberies were usually black people, who make up just under half the city's population.

The standard forms New Jersey police use to track pursuits don’t record the race of a suspect, making it difficult to know if there’s a racial disparity in the pursuits that don’t end with a death.

Murder victims were 92 percent black people and 97 percent of murder suspects were black. At least 60 percent of aggravated assault victims and suspects were black. Robbery victims were more evenly split — 40 percent black to 37 percent white. Robbery suspects were black 70 percent of the time. 

Newark isn't the only city where crime disproportionately involves black people.

Data provided by Atlanta Police Department — a city with a proportion of black residents two percentage points greater than Newark— shows a rate similar to Newark for black murder victims (87 percent) and suspects (94 percent) and a higher percentage of black people involved in aggravated assaults in 2019. Atlanta aggravated assault victims were 87 percent black, and 94 percent of the people arrested for assault were black.

Atlanta's violent crime numbers are similar to Detroit, a city with a black population 28 percentage points greater than Newark. More than 90 percent of the victims and perpetrators of aggravated assault and murder were black in 2019, data provided by Detroit shows.

Yet those cities with comparable 2019 crime demographics and more black residents have a lower rate for killing black people in police car chases since 2009: Atlanta at 86 percent and Detroit at 78 percent compared to Newark's 100 percent.

At least four of Newark’s deaths took place in the city’s South Ward, one as recently as 2018. South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James said he wasn’t aware of the city’s pursuit death racial disparity and called the police chase deaths “random and rare.” 

“As a police officer, you can’t control every scenario, every situation,” he said. 

The standard forms New Jersey police use to track pursuits don’t record the race of a suspect, making it difficult to know if there’s a racial disparity in the pursuits that don’t end with a death.

“Members of the Newark Police Division do not arrest for race," Ambrose said in an emailed statement. "We make arrests to equally protect the citizens of Newark, without consideration of the race of the perpetrator.”

Data compiled by the Network shows that on top of a huge racial disparity in pursuit deaths, Newark’s chases in the last decade are among the least effective in the state: just under half the pursuits ended with arrests, about 40 percent caused crashes and about 18 percent caused injuries.

“A 10-year look at police pursuits does not paint an accurate picture of our policies over the last few years, when we changed strategies to protect the public," Ambrose said in the statement.

Newark’s policy on pursuits was last updated in 2017, adding restrictions on the reasons officers can chase cars — no chasing stolen cars and no chasing people just because they fled from police.

Newark cops initiated many fewer pursuits in 2017 and 2018 compared to years before. There were fewer crashes and injuries, but still at least three deaths.

The pursuits also became less effective, ending with more crashed cars than arrested suspects.

"Let’s also be mindful that every pursuit begins with actions of the suspect to evade police, putting the public at immediate risk, whether we pursue or not," Ambrose said in the statement.

Killed before his daughter’s eyes

Family photo featuring James Walsh, who was killed by a suspect fleeing police.

James Walsh was proud of his daughter. 

The 49-year-old, 6-foot-4 South Plainfield truck driver and Giants football fan was known to friends as “Big Irish.”

He never went to college. 

His eldest daughter did.

In February 2009, Erin Walsh was in her second semester at Seton Hall University in South Orange studying political science.

“To him, it was a whole new world,” Erin, 29, said of her father. “And he loved it and always talked to me like I was this amazing genius, even though I was perfectly average.”

On his first visit to campus, father and daughter had dinner at a nearby brew pub. They talked about renting an RV the next summer, maybe cross-country. They talked about going to see the school’s basketball team. 

“And then,” Erin said, “that’s when we crossed the street.” 

It was about 8:15 p.m. Erin, her dad and a friend were in a crosswalk, headed to a nearby parking lot. They had the light to cross the road.

Another friend spotted Erin and called out a greeting. She paused to look back. Her father kept walking across the road.

A Honda Civic doing at least 55 m.p.h. on the 25 m.p.h. road veered around cars stopped for the traffic light at the intersection.

Erin turned toward her father. She was about 10 feet away.

The car honked but didn’t slow down. She saw headlights.

She saw the car hit him. She saw him hit the street. Hard. The driver didn’t stop.

“And at that point,” she said, “everything kind of goes a little blurry for me.”

The impact killed her father and derailed her life.

She didn’t know how to process the feelings. She said she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition sometimes associated with returning soldiers. She said she began to drink. She has flashbacks and is gripped by anxiety whenever she crosses a street.

The crash that killed Erin’s father and ruined her college years started with a traffic violation.

Family photos featuring James Walsh, who was killed by a suspect fleeing police.

The driver of the Honda, Frank Bradley Jr., then a 29-year-old man from Newark, was chased after he ran a red light, then sped away when police tried to pull him over, according to a federal judge’s ruling that struck down a lawsuit alleging wrongdoing by cops in the pursuit.

Bradley was charged with driving on a suspended license and endangering children he had in his car during the chase, in addition to crimes for the crash that killed Erin’s father, Essex County Prosecutor’s Office announced at the time. He pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter and vehicular homicide. He’s scheduled to be released from prison in February.

Erin called Bradley a coward at his sentencing nine years ago.

Now she forgives him.

“He was my age when he killed my dad, I can't even begin to think of what was going through his head besides fear and panic,” she said in an online message. “It is what it is, and I hope he finds the support and peace he needs once he gets out.”

Erin said she doesn’t blame the cops for what happened to her father. But she does think New Jersey can do more to limit pursuits and keep bystanders safe.

“I definitely don’t think minor traffic violations need to be ending in a high-speed police pursuit,” she said.

New Jersey policy has gaps

New Jersey is among a handful of states with rules for police pursuits and New Jersey’s guidelines are the most detailed, according to a 50-state review by undergraduate researchers from The College of New Jersey working in cooperation with the Network. Authorities in two states didn’t confirm the student’s findings but don’t appear to have a statewide policy on pursuits.

The New Jersey guidelines obligate a cop to consider 10 factors while racing after a fleeing suspect — like chances of success, whether the suspect is known and can be captured later, how much risk is involved, and the officer’s driving skills.

Once the chase is on, cops are supposed to radio in details like the reason for the chase, the direction, speed and information about the fleeing vehicle.

“Supervisors play a huge role in pursuits,” said Joseph Blaettler, former Union City deputy chief. “And that’s part of the reason why cops, as soon as they get into a pursuit, they have to call it out. The supervisor has to monitor the pursuit.”

But that doesn’t always happen. Jackson Patrolman Cherrick Daniels, involved in the pursuit that ended with the death of motorcyclist Anthony Griffin and pizza delivery driver Eric Larson, didn’t call in the pursuit until after the crash, his police report shows. That means a supervisor didn’t have a chance to weigh whether the chase was a good idea.

When a police car crashes in a pursuit, New Jersey’s policy calls for departments to review whether the collision could have been prevented and make a copy of that report available to their county prosecutor's office.

None of the 21 prosecutor’s offices produced these records in response to a Network request, saying they couldn’t be easily located and in one case denying access to a report as a confidential internal affairs record. Police cars were involved in more than 1,300 crashes since 2009, records from each town show.

Police internal investigations are closely guarded secrets in New Jersey, making it difficult to know whether a department took action against a cop involved in a chase.

This year, the state attorney general was tasked with investigating police-involved deaths and his office announced an investigation related to a police pursuit in August. A spokesman for the office said in December the investigation is ongoing.

Families aren’t finding help in court

Lawsuits claiming police misconduct have cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in recent years, the Network found. But these claims appear to yield little for people hurt in police car chases or their loved ones.

Data from the largest municipal insurer in the state, which covers at least 240 towns, show they closed 30 cases related to police chases in the last five years, 15 of which cost nothing, the remainder cost a total of $116,088, including the town's attorney fees.

To win a lawsuit filed against the cops, the law requires an aggrieved relative to show that police engaged in “willful misconduct,” which means an officer knowingly violated a superior’s command or a specific standing order.

It’s easy to show wrongdoing in court when an officer used excessive force against a citizen.

But it’s hard to convince a judge or jury of a police officer’s liability when a bystander was injured by a bad guy racing away from police, according to Gregg L. Zeff, a Mount Laurel attorney who has sued cops and defended them.

It’s so hard to prove a claim of wrongdoing when the eluding driver is the injured person that Zeff said he’s reviewed such cases, but he hasn’t taken one.

“Even if I thought that what was done was wrong, it’s just too hard to persuade people in a case like that,” he said.

'It can happen to anybody'

Taylor Bromberg, 26, visited the grave of her fiancé Eric Larson with her daughters, Adriana Nicole, 5, and Mikayla Grace, 2. Larson was killed by a suspect fleeing police.

Taylor Bromberg  is 26. Yet she has her name on a gravestone.

She loved Eric Larson, a native of Jackson, a skilled bowler and Yankees fan who favored sports video games. He stood 6-foot-2 and had long brown hair.

“I just thought he was cute,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s name was chiseled into granite next to Eric’s after he was fatally injured in Jackson in July 2018 by a motorcyclist fleeing a traffic stop.

“My whole life plan was taken away instantly," she said.

They had a daughter together and Eric was an attentive father to her and Taylor’s other child. They lived together. They went out as a family together: Adventure Aquarium in Camden, a trick or treat event at Manalapan High School.

They moved into an apartment in Jackson about three weeks before the crash.

Taylor recalled the night it happened. Eric was working his third day as a delivery driver for a nearby pizzeria. Taylor was asleep.

Their baby woke her about 1 a.m. She found a river of missed calls on her phone, Eric’s uncle took her to the hospital.

She said she was at the hospital three days straight before taking a break. Eric, his body broken, remained alive for about three weeks.

There were moments he was taken off sedation, when he could look into her eyes and nod. They held hands. There were days Taylor thought about the future.

But he never left intensive care.

“His worst day was my birthday,” she said. “He died the next day.”

The officer who initiated the chase, Cherrick Daniels, was suspended without pay about two months after the pursuit that left two dead. Daniels declined to comment on the pursuit.

Asked whether Daniels’ suspension was related to his conduct during the deadly pursuit, Jackson Police Chief Matthew D. Kunz said in an email: “While we do not comment on personnel matters, the answer is ‘no.’”

Provided by Taylor Bromberg

Kunz didn’t answer other questions about the incident or his department’s approach to pursuits.

Records show Daniels was still suspended as of November. He said in a text message he’s “no longer affiliated with Jackson.”

The town and Daniels face a lawsuit filed on behalf of Eric’s estate, claiming Daniels violated police standards for pursuits and Jackson failed to properly train him. An attorney representing Daniels and the town denied the claims in a legal response to the lawsuit.

Taylor didn’t realize how many people die like Eric did.

Eleven of New Jersey’s 55 fatal police chases this decade involved motorcycles.

When Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Bergen, did traffic enforcement in the mid-1980s as an officer in Englewood, he avoided pursuing fleeing motorcyclists.

“I would never chase motorcycles,” he said. “Because one of two things: if the guy on the motorcycle is good, you’re not going to catch him. If he’s not good, he’s probably going to kill himself. So, therefore, I just wouldn’t bother chasing them. It’s not worth it to me.”

As a former cop and Bergen County sheriff, Johnson has taken an interest in police accountability issues raised by the Network, recently introducing a bill intended to stop bad cops from quietly hopping between jobs.

“Maybe it’s time that we look at these pursuit policies in New Jersey,” he said. “It may be time to address that and tighten them up a little bit.”

Taylor visited her fiancé’s grave in the fall, patiently wrangling her two young daughters. She struggled to get the 2- and 5-year-olds to put their shoes on to leave.

“This is a perfect example of what gets left behind,” she said, fumbling with the tiny Velcro footwear. “There is no help. It’s just me.”

She wants people to know what happened to Eric. It wasn't a regular car crash, she said. 

“It can happen to anybody – it can happen to you, it can happen to them,” she said, gesturing to her daughters.

“It can happen to any person,” she said. “It’s just a matter of when.”

Andrew Ford: @AndrewFordNews; 732-643-4281; aford3@gannettnj.com

This story was produced with assistance by undergraduate researchers from The College of New Jersey under the guidance of Assistant Professor David M. Mazeika: Kyle Rich, Nicholas Scales and Hailey Stack.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this story reported a New Jersey death toll of 63 that was based on data provided by the state attorney general's office. After publication, the office reported that their data was flawed and said there were 45 deaths, which is lower than the 51 reported in federal accident records. A Network review of all relevant records from local, state and federal sources shows that at least 55 died during police chases from 2009 through 2018.

Taylor Bromberg, 26, visited the grave of her fiancé Eric Larson with her daughters, Adriana Nicole, 5, and Mikayla Grace, 2. Larson was killed by a suspect fleeing police.

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Deadly police chases kill dozens in NJ, catch few fleeing crooks