August 28—Those close to Ethan Mestes will tell you his face lit up a room — a reflection of his warm, happy personality.
Mestes lived in Pueblo, Colorado, where he renovated houses. When he wasn’t working, he was with his friends at the motorcycle track.
“He was a good kid,” said Mestes’ uncle, Johnny Alires. “He was a good friend. He was a good nephew.”
Mestes, 22, died Aug. 15 when an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper rear-ended a fleeing Ford Ranger on Interstate 35.
Mestes and Mercedes Martinez, 26, were ejected from the truck. Mestes was pronounced dead at the scene. Martinez was in critical condition after the chase.
Questions have long been raised about police pursuits, but at least one expert and one study question the decision to pursue in most cases, indicating that when the pursuit is called off most of the time, fleeing vehicles slow down to nearly the speed limit within two minutes.
The findings contradict the claims given by OHP as a reason for the pursuit and turning of the truck.
Alires said his nephew had traveled to Oklahoma City to be with his friend, Martinez, whose father and brother had just died. He and Martinez were in the car with Alex Carpenter, the father of Martinez’s children, when the trooper ran the car out.
On the evening of August 15, OHP Trooper Nick Mills chased Carpenter, the driver, on Interstate 35 from south Oklahoma City to Norman after Carpenter failed to pull over for an equipment violation.
Mills discovered after engaging in the pursuit that the tags on the Ford Ranger had been stolen, according to a probable cause affidavit filed Monday in Cleveland County District Court.
Foster previously said Carpenter turned toward troopers during the chase.
Mills was placed on administrative leave immediately after the pursuit for an internal investigation.
The affidavit was used to charge Carpenter, 30, also of Pueblo, with first-degree murder, unauthorized use of a vehicle and fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer.
The murder charge was issued under Oklahoma’s felony murder rule, which says a suspect can be charged with murder if someone dies while committing another felony.
“I just remember falling to the ground at work and just running out the door,” said Kayla Mestes, Ethan’s older sister, when she heard the news. “I called my sister and told her he was gone. I think I was more angry than sad because he was there by himself.”
Since May 2016, 19 people have died in 16 OHP pursuits, according to data compiled by the Tulsa World. At least nine of them, including Mestes, were not the getaway drivers. All but one of the pursuits stemmed from stolen property or traffic violations, according to the Tulsa World.
Immediately following the chase, OHP Trooper Eric Foster said Carpenter “decided to flee in a malicious manner and put countless lives at risk.”
Foster also said that “just looking at the science,” OHP troopers know that turning their lights off and on “doesn’t stop a bad guy from driving recklessly.”
When asked for evidence of this, Foster said OHP has video of motorists continuing to drive recklessly after law enforcement calls off the pursuit.
But StarChase, which makes a GPS device used by law enforcement agencies to track fleeing drivers, found in a 2015 federal study that fleeing drivers slowed to normal speeds within two minutes of pulling out of a car. policeman.
OHP declined to provide The Transcript with training materials used to justify pursuits and raids, citing part of Oklahoma’s open records law that allows the agency to withhold records related to training, lesson plans and instruction.
Neither agency immediately responded to a request for comment or emailed questions about the pursuit and its pursuit policies or whether they use StarChase.
“There are other ways to handle this situation. It should be more pro-life than pro-conviction, or pro-arrest, you know what I mean? If they had just advocated, I’m sure these kids would have just disappeared in the night and then they would have appeared during the day,” Alires said.
“I don’t see it as worth the risk”
The StarChase study included 36 cases and inmate interviews and showed that on average, a suspect on the run with a tracking tag would slow down to within 10 miles of the posted speed limit in less than two minutes. No deaths or property damage were reported in the cases used in the study.
The study also showed that the suspects in the study were later successfully apprehended more than 80% of the time.
Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina and a former police officer who studies policing, said pursuits carry a “significantly increased risk” that an officer, driver or other person will be injured or killed.
He also said that tactical vehicle interventions have not been well tested empirically.
“What if (Mills) had (made a tactical maneuver) in the car and hit another car and killed a mother or a child, or even another police officer?” Alires asked.
Stoughton said he believes police should typically only pursue people suspected of committing violent crimes because pursuits “are inherently dangerous.”
For property crimes, such as a stolen vehicle, he said factors, including when the vehicle was stolen, should also factor into officers’ decision to pursue.
“I’m always willing to recognize extenuating circumstances, but generally, I don’t think it’s worth the risk,” he said.
“Enforce the law”
Stoughton also said law enforcement agencies are “all over the place” when it comes to pursuit policies.
That applies to services in the Oklahoma City metro area, where Mestes was killed. Oklahoma currently has no laws restricting the pursuit of law enforcement officers in the state.
In June, the Oklahoma City Police Department changed its pursuit policy so that officers cannot exceed the speed limit by 15 mph on city streets and 25 mph on highways in cases where the officer activates his lights and siren.
The policy also directs officers to “self-terminate” pursuits for property crimes, traffic offenses, simple assault and felony eluding in areas that include active school zones and active construction zones, where road conditions are poor and when the identity is known of the suspect.
OKCPD updated its policy more than a year after a woman was killed instantly when a runaway truck collided with her in a pursuit that reached 95 miles per hour, Oklahoma Watch reported.
In Norman, where Mestes was killed, the police department leaves more room for interpretation.
In April, NPD officers chased James Morrison after his car and license plates looked like an assault suspect. They chased him at high speeds on State Highway 9, which has one of the highest fatality rates among the state’s highways, and tried multiple tactical maneuvers.
The officers eventually shot Morrison after he got out of his wheelchair and fired at them. Detectives later determined that Morrison had a gun in his possession after a prior felony conviction and driving under suspension.
When asked if police were aware of Morrison’s felony warrant at the time, an NPD spokesman said Morrison, his car and his license plates “matched the description and information available at the time of the incident.
The NPD policy manual says officers must weigh the “safety of the public in the area of the pursuit,” including the type of area, and should look into the suspected offense.
While its guidelines for terminating a pursuit are not as clear as OKCPD’s, the department discourages extended pursuits for suspected misdemeanors and considers the safety of officers, bystanders and suspects.
NPD did not immediately respond to emailed questions about its tracking policies, whether they have changed them over the years and the effects of any changes.
But OHP’s pursuits received special attention on Capitol Hill. State Rep. Ajay Pittman, D-Oklahoma City, hosted a midterm study in September 2021 hosted a midterm study in September 2021 on the dangers of high-speed chases.
In the study, state Public Safety Director Tim Tipton said OHP must balance preserving civil society by apprehending suspects with the safety of bystanders, troopers and suspects in that order, according to Tulsa Public Radio.
Kayla Mestes said she would like “to see a law put in place” to define and limit stalking practices for police. He believes laws like this could prevent deaths like Ethan’s from happening again.
“We are devastated. It sucks,” Alires said. “Like I said, he was a good kid. He should never have left. He should have stayed home. But like I said, he had such a big heart.”