The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office enlisted the help of the Blaine police department to stop a high-speed car chase that ended at the U.S./Canada border with the driver’s arrest.
The chase began at about 6:30 p.m. on August 11 just south of Bellingham. Sheriff’s deputies and Bellingham police began pursuing the car after the driver, Michael Fay, failed to stop when asked to pull over.
Fay continued north on I-5 at speeds sometimes exceeding 100 miles per hour, according to sheriff’s deputies.
Skagit County police informed the sheriff’s department that they were looking for Fay on suspicion of reckless driving.
Police deployed spike strips near Ferndale in an attempt to stop Fay, but he was able to weave around them. Police backed off the chase for a time due to heavy traffic, but started it up again once Fay continued to drive erratically.
Fay continued north on I-5 where spike strips deployed near the Birch Bay-Lynden Road exit by Blaine police shredded two of the car’s tires.
The driver attempted to make it through the border but crashed into a line of three cars waiting at customs.
No injuries were reported. Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers took Fay into custody at the border.
Fay was booked into the Whatcom County jail on suspicion of felony eluding after RCMP officers released him. The suspect may also face charges in Skagit County for felony eluding and reckless driving.
The August 11 chase makes two police pursuits that have ended at the Peace Arch point of entry in two weeks.
The sheriff’s office and Blaine police also chased a car to the border on August 2. That chase was stopped by the use of a spike strip, which closed the northbound lanes of I-5 in Blaine for a few hours.
Chief Thomas Schreiber, CBP public affairs officer, said police pursuits ending at the border are a rare occurrence.
Whenever chases do occur, Schreiber said CBP officers mainly provide aid to Blaine police and the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office.
Two police pursuits happening within two weeks of each other is not highly unusual, undersheriff Jeff Parks said. Most pursuits involving sheriff’s deputies do not reach speeds higher than the posted limit.
The common perception of the Hollywood-style police chase is inaccurate the majority of the time, he said.
“We like to avoid high speed pursuits when we can,” Parks said.
Sheriff’s deputies are trained to evaluate each possible pursuit on its own merits, Parks explained. The reason for trying to pull the car over, weather conditions, and surrounding traffic are all factors a deputy must take into consideration before engaging in a pursuit, he said.
“The underlying principle is not just to chase them until they crash,” Parks said.
Any pursuit in which a deputy is involved is monitored by a supervisor via the radio, Parks said.
While the supervisors typically do not interact with pursuing deputies, they do make sure the deputy acts in a way that is appropriate for the situation.
Deciding when to start or continue pursuing a suspect is often a difficult decision for a deputy to make, Parks explained.
Any information about the identity of the suspect and the crime committed needs to constantly be weighed against the danger to civilians, he said.
When the idea of a pursuit proves too dangerous, Parks explained the deputies are trained to consider other ways of catching the suspect.
If a license plate can be run, for example, deputies are often advised to not engage in a pursuit and attempt to pick up the suspect at a later time, he said.
“We’re not going to chase them just to chase them,” Parks said.
The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs has a model policy on which many Washington law enforcement agencies, including Whatcom County, base their specific policy, Parks said.
The county sheriff’s policy is reexamined every year based upon recommendations gleaned from case law and other legal precedents.
While each agency has to tailor their policy to their area, Parks said the theme of rigorous evaluation of each unique pursuit situation remains constant.