‘Not justified in any way’: Expert questions DPS use of a PIT maneuver on busy Loop 101

A research professor at Suffolk Law School says DPS had no reason to do a PIT maneuver on a busy freeway while chasing a suspect.
Published: Aug. 30, 2023 at 5:34 PM MST
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SCOTTSDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — The use of a PIT maneuver during a pursuit on Tuesday is being questioned after several people were injured when the fleeing driver crashed head-on into other vehicles. Karen Blum has researched the use of the PIT maneuver as a research professor at Suffolk Law School and questions the use of a PIT maneuver by the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

In a viewer video submitted to Arizona’s Family, a DPS trooper can be seen using the PIT maneuver on the fleeing pickup driver near the exit ramp to Talking Stick Way. The fleeing truck continued after the PIT maneuver and went the wrong way on Loop 101 before colliding with other vehicles, leaving some motorists injured. “We need to get a helicopter, he’s gonna cause a head-on [crash],” the trooper told dispatch.

The trooper is asked on dispatch audio what the initial reason for the stop on the truck was and he begins to explain when the suspect crashed into other vehicles. “No pla--- oh he just 64′ed [crashed],” the trooper said on dispatch audio. DPS said four people were injured in the crash and have been released from the hospital.

Blum, who has studied the PIT tactic, including filing a brief on the topic before the U.S. Supreme Court, said the incident on Tuesday could have ended much worse. “I can’t envision a set of circumstances that would say it would be OK to use that PIT maneuver where you’re on this crowded highway, and there’s a good chance of, you know, killing somebody else, some innocent bystander,” Blum said.

Despite the vehicle continuing the wrong way after the PIT maneuver, DPS called the PIT maneuver “justified” and “successful.” “The pit maneuver was successful, spinning the vehicle out of control and facing the wrong way when it came to a stop,” Sgt. Eric Andrews said while briefing the media on Tuesday night.

Blum said the maneuver should not have been used on the busy roadway. “I can’t see any circumstances under which at that speed, crowded freeway, the use of a PIT maneuver would be justified or condoned by any law enforcement agency,” Blum said.

The pickup truck driver was later identified as 52-year-old Adam Christopher Wanko. He was booked on charges of unlawful flight and endangerment and had two outstanding felony warrants. His passenger was released and not charged.

This is not the first time DPS has come under scrutiny for using “pursuit intervention maneuvers.” In 2018, DPS tried to box in someone who refused to pull over when the SUV driver crossed into oncoming traffic and hit a vehicle head-on.

The agency updated its pursuit policy after that incident, but the policy still leaves the decision to box in or PIT a fleeing vehicle largely up to the pursuing officer.

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