The Payette County Coroner’s Office has identified the 19-year-old Nampa driver who died after police and deputies pursued their vehicle from Oregon into Idaho.
Jais Gallegos and an unidentified 16-year-old Nampa girl died after deputies from the Payette County Sheriff’s Office chased the black Volkswagen Jetta Saturday night along Elmore Road just east of Fruitland, and the vehicle left the road, entered a canal and hit the side of a concrete bridge, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Payette County Sheriff Andy Creech told the Idaho Statesman the Coroner’s Office won’t release the identity of the 16-year-old because she was underage. The two teens were found dead inside the car.
KTVB reported the 16-year-old girl was the daughter of Ondrea Ellis. A GoFundMe, with a goal of $10,000, has been created on behalf of the Ellis family asking for help paying for funeral expenses. The page said that any money donated would help the family focus on “grieving, comforting one another and remembering their loved one.”
“I do feel for the families — especially the 16-year-old passenger,” Creech said in a phone interview. “It’s a real tragic situation and obviously whenever law enforcement engages in pursuits, our hope is that the driver will yield and let us apprehend (them) in a safe manner.”
Just after 9 p.m. Saturday, the Ontario Police Department asked the Payette County Sheriff’s Office for help pursuing the Jetta, later discovered to be stolen, that was headed toward Fruitland, Idaho, according to an initial news release from the Payette County Sheriff’s Office.
The Sheriff’s Office said the Jetta, which didn’t have license plates, was driving fast without headlights turned on. That was why the Ontario Police Department initially began pursuing the teens, Creech told the Idaho Statesman in a phone interview.
The vehicle drove up to 100 miles an hour during the pursuit, Creech said, but mainly averaged 80 miles an hour.
Creech said the Sheriff’s Office began pursuing the vehicle after deputies watched the vehicle cross into Idaho and run a red light at North Whitley Drive and Northwest 16th Street, which is the first major intersection coming eastbound into Idaho from U.S. 30. Creech said the Jetta “narrowly missed” another vehicle.
“He brought life into everyone he came in contact with, always made everyone laugh and melt hearts. He had so much potential in life,” his mother, Jamie Olivas, wrote on the page. “He was sadly (taken) too soon from us.”
Payette County investigating pursuit, sheriff says
In Ada and Canyon counties, when a police pursuit results in a death, the county’s critical incident task force investigates the incident. Typically a neighboring law enforcement agency investigates the incident instead of the involved agency.
In this case, the pursuit is being investigated internally because Creech said the Payette County Sheriff’s Office isn’t part of a critical incident task force. Creech added that when the Sheriff’s Office is involved in police shootings, Idaho State Police handles the investigation.
Creech said once the Sheriff’s Office receives the crash report from state police, which are investigating the physical collision, the office will make sure that the proper policies were followed and “look for opportunities to make any adjustments or improvements as needed.”
The Sheriff’s Office policy regarding pursuits focuses on “community safety,” and it’s up to the responding officers’ judgment, Creech said.
Deputies were concerned the vehicle “posed a great risk to the community” because it was already driving fast without headlights, Creech said, adding that if deputies weren’t there to alert traffic to the Jetta, it could have also resulted in a “bad outcome.”
“If it’s in town, we become more likely to disengage,” Creech said regarding police pursuits, “but there’s also a piece where you’re trying to weigh the risk of the community if you’re not pursuing them versus continuing to pursue them.”