Police pursuit before fatal crash at 9th and 9th whale was appropriate, D.A finds

Officers began following the vehicle after they suspected it was leaving a shooting scene.

(Salt Lake City Police Department) Salt Lake City police officers respond to a fatal crash that followed a police pursuit on Oct. 8, 2023, near 1100 East and 900 South.

Salt Lake City police officers did not violate any criminal statutes when they pursued a car in October that ultimately crashed near the 9th and 9th whale sculpture, leaving its passenger dead and its driver later charged with manslaughter, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill ruled Friday.

Before the pursuit began, police were responding with active lights and sirens to a reported shooting at the Durango Bar, located at 923 South State Street, when a car pulled out in front of them without yielding, according to prosecutors’ findings. Officers later learned that the shooting had actually occurred at a nearby house party, near 900 South Edison Street.

The car then headed northbound on State Street at a “high rate of speed,” and officers followed, since they believed the vehicle had left the scene of the bar shooting, prosecutors found.

Two more officers joined the pursuit as the car soon drove eastbound on 900 South for about 1.5 miles, according to prosecutors’ findings. When the car approached 1100 East and 900 South, it failed to navigate a roundabout and went over a curb — sending the car airborne and into a tree, documents state.

Investigators determined the vehicle was going 71 miles per hour before the rollover crash. The driver of the car, later identified as 20-year-old Josue Hernandez Perez, suffered serious injuries. The vehicle’s sole passenger, identified as 21-year-old Douglas Rodriguez, was pronounced dead at the scene.

While no officers fired weapons during the pursuit, and police did not use specific pursuit tactics — such as tire-deflation devices, or a “precision immobilization technique,” which involves intentionally hitting a fleeing vehicle to force it to stop — the Police Department still invoked its “officer-involved critical incident” protocol.

But Gill’s office determined the fatal crash did not meet the definition of an “officer-involved critical incident,” which requires an outside agency to investigate an officer’s use of force that results in “serious bodily injury or death of a subject,” according to the Salt Lake County protocol document.

Gill also said his office did not find any evidence that the officers’ conduct violated criminal statutes.

Hernandez-Perez, the driver, was charged in October with second-degree felony manslaughter. At the time of the crash, his blood alcohol content was three times higher than Utah’s legal limit of 0.05, according to charging documents.

Because of pending prosecution, police said they could not say whether or not Hernandez-Perez or Rodriguez were at the house party prior to the pursuit.

Using surveillance footage and cell phone videos, police connected a 19-year-old to the house party shooting and arrested him on Friday, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Investigators said a fight broke out at the party, and the 19-year-old, who police identified as a gang member, apparently saw a 20-year-old punch two of his friends.

The teenager then pulled a gun, police allege, and shot the 20-year-old in the leg and continued firing as the man ran away. The 20-year-old suffered non-life threatening injuries.

The teenager was booked into jail on suspicion of multiple offenses, including aggravated assault and discharge of a firearm. He has not been charged as of Monday morning. The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not name defendants unless they have been formally charged.

Correction, 12:50 p.m., Dec. 4, 2023 • An earlier version of this story misstated what details police had released about the house party shooting.