ST. LOUIS — Four years after losing Krystofer, his bedroom looks just as he left it. His mother Connie Batsell said it helps keep his memory alive as she works to spread awareness about the public safety dangers of police chases.
“He was on the rise with his dreams," said Connie.
He dreamed of a career in music.
Connie said everything changed when her son crossed a St. Charles street after a light turned green. The 21-year-old was hit by a driver fleeing police in St. Charles in 2018.
“So, whatever we can do to bring voice, to bring change, to bring public safety, that's why we're here," said Connie.
Years after his death, police video from around St. Louis shows a growing trend: Drivers fleeing from law enforcement has become far more frequent.
Take police in Hazelwood.
In just the past year, they’ve seen 41% more drivers speeding away from police trying to stop them. In 2021, the department had 222 documented incidents. In 2022, it had 314. They included incidents where officers attempted to stop a vehicle for anything from a traffic violation and expired plates to investigative purposes, and the driver fled from them.
The St. Louis County Police Department said people fleeing police has become so out of hand, they started tracking incidents last year. In 2022, the department recorded 2,452 “failure to yields.” Police told the I-Team the numbers keep growing.
“They don't care about their own safety. They're also not caring about anyone else's safety," said Tim Burger, captain at the Hazelwood Police Department.
Burger said police limit pursuits to only violent offenders.
“What we don't want to see is we don't want to see innocent people getting hurt," he said.
In most cases, he told the I-Team the danger to the public of people fleeing police outweighs the need for law enforcement to stop them. Over the last four decades, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows at least 4,200 innocent bystanders – just like Krystofer – have died in police pursuits.
Critics believe that number is hugely underreported. Researchers said there’s no standard requirement for tracking, and reporting to the federal government is voluntary. Police departments are also rarely audited.
So, how are police departments holding drivers accountable?
“Well, we do our very best to make the traffic stops to enforce the law," said Burger. “We have made changes. We've increased patrols.”
He said his department is working especially hard on cracking down on speeding.
But Burger said police pursuits are a catch 22, because drivers who get away keep driving dangerously. It’s why Connie and her husband Ken are advocating for police to use new technology – an app called “Digital Siren.” It would let people know where police chases are happening.
The St. Louis County Police Department said they are discussing the use of an app to notify drivers of pursuits in the area.
“It can tell you, hey, there's an officer up ahead of me, so I'll use geofencing," said Ken, Krystofer’s father.
So far, no police departments in our area have signed on. The Batsells said right now, departments are worried people won’t download the app. So, they keep sharing their story, hoping their experience can save even just one life.
“We all have places to get to and let's do it safely so we can see our loved ones again," said Connie.
Police said many dangerous drivers change the way they drive based on where they are. They said people know where they’ll get caught and where they won’t. Right now, there’s legislation in the works to increase penalties.