Authorities: Containing reckless driving takes luck
By KAITLIN DURBIN
Apr. 07, 2018
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Robert Ours was screaming along at around 140 mph when he slammed head-on into school Principal Diane Garduno southeast of the Colorado Springs Airport on Nov. 21, killing them both, according to the recently released final accident report.
The banshee rate of speed would come as no surprise to the 29 frightened motorists who made emergency calls to report Ours swerving in and out of traffic at speeds well in excess of 100 mph over the course of Nov. 20-21. Many of those callers warned 911 operators that the driver of an older gray Audi was going to kill someone.
Ours' deadly path was documented in a Dec. 24 Gazette report, Killer on the Road.
Even though Ours, 21, raced unchecked across El Paso County over the course of those two days, law enforcement has done little to change the way they handle reckless driving complaints.
They don't need to, agencies say.
Tracking down dangerous drivers is a game of "luck and timing," not procedure and skill, Colorado State Patrol spokesman Rob Madden maintained in a series of interviews spanning several weeks. The Colorado Springs Police Department and El Paso County Sheriff's Office agreed: If circumstances align just right — if there is an officer already in the area and not busy on another call — they can sometimes catch reckless offenders.
At minimum, that suggests that Colorado's highly-touted system of urging motorists to report dangerous or drunken drivers is less than foolproof. In the case of Ours, in which his probable identity and home address — where he returned after the first night of multiple reports — were known from reported license plate readings, it proved tragic.
It's like "looking for a needle in the haystack," CSP spokesman Madden said, in describing the difficulties in following up on motorist-initiated reports.
"Even when a trooper is in the exact area and the (reporting party) says they just passed a marked patrol car, the question becomes how long has it taken for the RP to call, explain what happened and for the dispatcher to inform the troopers in the area? With a vehicle traveling at 65 mph, they would be over 1 mile past the trooper if that process takes 60 seconds," Madden said.
Ours, at times, was traveling more than twice that, making it even more difficult for law enforcement to catch him, but he also had numerous concerned citizens updating his movement nearly every step of the way. For two days, their calls traced his erratic, full-throttle driving up and down Interstate 25, down Academy and Powers boulevards and out into the county before ending in the fatal crash on Bradley Road.
In previous interviews with The Gazette, those callers said they expected that when they dialed 911 their warnings would make a difference, that the seemingly-crazed Audi driver would be stopped.
While law enforcement has tried to create a safety net to protect the public against dangerous drivers like Ours, weaknesses exist, and Ours found them, according to officials and to the Ours crash report, which CSP completed in mid-March.
CATCHING A MOVING TARGET
Numerous times during the frantic 911 calls, dispatchers offered assurances they were sending the information to their respective road officers and teaming with other local agencies to catch the offending vehicle. But records show an active search for Ours' Audi wasn't launched until 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 21, less than two hours before the fatal crash.
At the time, citizens had complained about Ours' dangerous driving 29 times — 16 complaints the day before and 13 on the morning of Nov. 21. Callers described the Audi rocketing sharply between lanes, using the shoulder to pass, cutting drivers off and nearly crashing into them.
While details from those traffic complaints were being aired to law enforcement across the county on both days — alerts meant to signal road officers to watch for the offender - the report indicates no one was free to investigate them until 9:31 a.m. on the second day. That's when Colorado State Patrol Trooper T.S. Deen, who'd just wrapped up a crash investigation in eastern El Paso County, was told to make his way to Garden of the Gods Road, Ours' last reported location, according to the crash report.
On his way, Deen assigned another trooper to go to Ours' house in Fountain to see if the Audi was there. It wasn't.
Accounting for the roughly 25-30 minutes it would take to drive across the city, Deen likely arrived at Garden of the Gods Road around 10 a.m. By that time, Ours had already got back on I-25 and exited onto Mesa Ridge Parkway, a patrol dispatcher confirmed at 10:18 a.m., having already relayed the information to Colorado Springs police. Another caller simultaneously reported Ours to the county one exit down, at South Santa Fe Avenue.
This information apparently was not shared with Deen, who remained at Garden of the Gods, the report shows.
At 10:25 a.m., a patrol dispatcher called the Sheriff's Office with Ours' new location on southbound I-25, between Fountain and Security-Widefield. But again, no one told Deen, who stayed put until 10:42 a.m., when he learned of Ours exiting onto Mesa Ridge and the trooper made his way south on Highway 85, "in case (he) doubled back."
Deen was still waiting at Mesa Ridge when the fatal crash was reported 5 miles northeast on Bradley Road.
The report shows Ours was traveling at the breakneck speed of 137 to 140 mph when he hit Garduno's vehicle head-on. His post-mortem toxicology test returned clean.
A LACK OF MANPOWER
Law enforcement's delayed response was a manpower issue, the agencies said.
On the morning of Nov. 21, as call after call came in about Ours' reckless driving, starting about 7:30 a.m., "the three troopers that were on duty were tied up with other incidents," the State Patrol said in its report. The agency had tried passing off information for city police or county deputies to investigate, in one case telling police, "We're just really short right now, and apparently where we're at he's not at," but those agencies were busy, too.
Police were investigating a string of nine apparent arson car fires set north of downtown; three vehicles were totaled. An arson also was reported at a gas station.
Twelve sheriff's deputies were assisting on a robbery investigation in the county between 10 and 10:25 a.m. Agencies were having to triage.
"If we're receiving six to seven calls on a single vehicle, yet there are three troopers in the area on other incidents, do we forgo those other incidents to look for a vehicle that's being called in?" Madden asked. "It is difficult to weigh the importance, integrity, validity of one call to another."
Colorado Springs police spokesman Lt. Howard Black agreed, citing the 470 dangerous driving calls received on average each month, in addition to other emergency calls. Police have to rank each call on a priority system, with the highest priority posing the largest threat of harm to life and receiving the fastest response. Driving complaints rarely rise to that level.
"It gets back to a staffing issue — we're competing against all of the other needs and requests," Black said. "The chiefs are constantly making decisions on putting the resources to the most intense and/or dangerous situations that we're responding to."
Also adding to the difficulty, Madden said, are complaints that come in missing important details like a full vehicle description or license plate number.
Sixteen dispatch recordings provided by county and city agencies from that day show Ours' license plate actually was given to authorities five times, but, according to Madden, only one of those calls was included in the six reports shared with patrol.
Two troopers still tried to intercept the Audi based off those reports, but they were "unable to make a contact so the call was closed out," Madden said.
Records indicate police and sheriff's deputies also may have been trying to find Ours on Nov. 20, but were unsuccessful. At one point, a county dispatcher tells a concerned caller "we actually have two units in that area that are going to be on the lookout for that vehicle," and later is heard updating deputies with new location information, but Ours slips through, eventually heading home for the night.
Ours' license plate information also would be provided to the agencies seven times on the second day, but they apparently did not connect the calls.
If errors were made in the way agencies reacted to callers' ominous warnings of a deadly driver on the road, no one is saying. What is clear is that, for whatever reason, the safety net law enforcement casts to guard against tragedy failed on Nov. 21.
It failed Garduno, who left behind a husband, five children and a grieving school district. In a way, it even failed Robert Ours and his loved ones. And it failed the countless other drivers who were endangered by Ours' two-day rampage.
But that doesn't mean it will always fail, Madden stressed, encouraging drivers to continue to report dangerous drivers.
"I would rather have people make calls and get frustrated that they never saw a law enforcement officer do anything, because that one time they call and there happens to be a law enforcement officer there, it is worth it," Madden said.
"Any lives saved is a success."
Information from: The Gazette, http://www.gazette.com