WASHINGTON - A deadly crash involving a dirt bike and a D.C. police vehicle is still under investigation as family and friends of the man killed are questioning what exactly led to the collision.
Jeffrey Price was killed when his dirt bike struck the police cruiser last Friday afternoon on Division Avenue and Fitch Place in Northeast D.C.
D.C. police's preliminary investigation has revealed that Price was riding his dirt bike northbound on Division Avenue when it crossed onto the wrong side of the roadway. They said Price was speeding when it struck the marked D.C. police cruiser.
However, Price’s family told FOX 5 that several witnesses have told them that police were pursuing Price before he crashed, and that the cruiser he hit pulled out to block his path.
Two teenage witnesses, whose parents asked that they not be identified, told FOX 5 they saw an officer pull in front Price, causing the crash.
"Jeffrey was coming down here zooming on the dirt bike and the police officer had just like pushed over there and made him like hit the door and then the wheel went into the door. He had flew, hit the ground," said one of the teenagers. The other also shared a similar story.
Dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles are prohibited from traveling on the roadways in the District, but it is against police department policy to pursue these illegal vehicles because of safety issues.
D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham responded Monday to the claim that Price was being chased by officers.
“We don’t have any information to suggest there was a pursuit,” he said. “There were several witnesses that were out on their porches that day. We spoke to all of them and none of them suggested it was a pursuit. So if the family has somebody that is saying this, we would like to hear from them.”
When we asked the police chief if there was a blocking maneuver used by police, Newsham said, “That remains to be seen. I can tell you if you go up to the scene and see this for yourself, the motorcycle left about 60 yards of skid marks before it struck the vehicle, so it appears we had an unauthorized vehicle on the streets of the District of Columbia operating at a high rate of speed. What caused of the accident remains to be seen.”
Newsham said there is no dashcam video of the incident, but their department is looking into whether there is any body camera footage or video from any surrounding homes.
So far, police have not answered our questions about why the police cruiser was in the middle of the road at the time of the crash.
FOX 5 also learned Monday from the Price family attorney David Shurtz that Michael Pepperman, an investigator looking into the crash that took Price's life, has previously been accused of ramming another dirt bike rider intentionally. That rider, Arnell Robinson, died in 2009. Shurtz represented Robinson's family and said the case resulted in a settlement with D.C. police.
In a court document from the case, a judge wrote that Officer Pepperman's partner stated to investigators "he did that on purpose," referring to Pepperman running into Robinson.
D.C. police did not answer questions from FOX 5 about the appropriateness of Pepperman working on the case given the past allegations against him. However, D.C. police spokesperson Dustin Sternbeck told FOX 5 another detective is the lead investigator on the Price case.
D.C. police’s chase policy is posted online, but the documents they have put up are heavily redacted to the point that almost no information about rules or regulations on pursuits are fully available. FOX 5 has asked police why portions of the policy are blacked out, but they have not responded to our inquiry about that.
On Monday, a memorial at the scene of the crash continues to grow as Price's friends are upset and believe police played a role in his death.
“He was a genuine person, very genuine and he is going to be missed and he is going to be loved,” said Ashley Dorsey, Price’s friend.
“We are just trying to keep the peace and we want this to be noticed,” said another friend. “We don’t want this to be at a standstill. This thing is serious and the police need to be held accountable for their actions also.”
On Monday night, several ATV and dirt bike riders were seen riding up and down the street on Division Avenue in the same area where Price was killed. A person on an ATV was seen riding slowly while he revved his engine, flashed his middle finger and performed wheelies as a D.C. police cruiser with its lights and siren on followed close behind him.
Later in the night, D.C. police temporarily closed off Division Avenue between Eads Street and Fitch Place off to traffic.
A vigil is scheduled to be held for Price on Wednesday evening.