CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – “When does the danger of the pursuit outweigh the possibility of capture of the suspect?” Champaign Police Lieutenant Aaron Lack said.
It’s a question Champaign police officers asked themselves before taking off on a high-speed chase Wednesday night. The pursuit ended with two arrests, and a suspect who’s already embedded in a web of crime that spans seven years.
The suspects in custody are Oshae Cotton and Jaylen Espino. Both are 26 years old.
Cotton is connected to a different case, one WCIA was reporting on all while the chase was happening. A man named Kenichi Townsend was found guilty of attempted murder Tuesday. He shot a Champaign couple last fall, but police say he actually meant to shoot Oshae Cotton for testifying against someone else in a 2016 murder case. Cotton and the innocent victims drive similar cars. Investigators can’t share much about Cotton’s arrest Wednesday night, but WCIA broke down the decision to move forward with a high-speed chase.
“Officers in Champaign will not pursue unless a crime is very serious,” Lack said.
Lack says police will only conduct a high-speed chase when suspects could pose a threat to others, and when certain violent felonies are involved.
“I’m not going to go into great detail of the case but the officers did have some understanding of people who were involved and what had happened prior to the initiation of the pursuit,” he said.
It started with a shooting report after 7 p.m. on the west side of Champaign. Police say they found the suspect’s car, which went eastbound on I-74, exiting onto Cunningham Avenue in Urbana and weaving between both cities before crashing on South Neil Street.
“I was about to proceed through the intersection but I heard sirens so I slammed on my brakes,” witness Sara Rand said.
Rand watched part of the chase unfold.
“By the time I turned my head to see where the sirens were coming from, the suspect vehicle was getting through the intersection,” Rand said.
She was leaving a bank parking lot when the suspect’s car came barreling down the street.
“They would’ve T-boned me if I didn’t stop fast enough,” she said.
In that moment, she says her main concern was officer safety.
“I know how dangerous these situations are not only for them, but for the public,” she said.
That’s why Lack says engaging in a vehicle pursuit is a big deal – and a rare occurrence.
“I’ve been doing this over 20 years and I’ve only been involved in a very small handful,” Lack said.
Despite how rare police chases are, it’s the second time Rand says she crossed paths with one, near the same intersection.
“Same thing – a high speed pursuit came through the intersection and the suspect vehicle almost hit my vehicle in the front and crashed into a pole,” she said.
Lack says the decision to pursue is based on environmental factors and the events leading up to it.
“The seriousness of the crime, the weather, the amount of traffic, what type of roads. So that decision can be made by the sergeant to either terminate or allow a pursuit to continue,” he said.
If you’ve ever witnessed one, you may have picked up on the sound of different sirens. Lack says there’s a reason officers have multiple options – and it has to do with safety.
“You may notice that your ear will pick up a siren from one direction or it could spot that there’s two different types of sirens meaning there’s more than one squad car coming,” Lack said.
Police say they found two guns and ammunition along the suspects’ flight path last night, and that no one was hurt in the shooting incident that sparked the chase.
Police say several felony charges are pending for Espino and Cotton. A third person in the car was released after being briefly detained Wednesday. Police are asking witnesses for any footage that may be helpful in the investigation.