Dallas police halted a highly successful vehicle theft decoy car program after a car they were monitoring crashed into another automobile and killed an 83-year-old driver.
According to authorities, 28-year-old Eddie Ramirez stole a bait car, which, rigged with a hidden camera and tracking equipment, was designed to be stolen. As part of the theft program, rigged vehicles are placed in high crime areas, with the the doors unlocked and the keys inside. Once inside, crooks are caught on tape, officers kill the car's engine and sometimes lock the doors.
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But when police called dispatchers to remotely shut off the engine in the car Ramirez was driving, an error message came up, presumably because the accident had already occurred, Police Chief David Kunkle said at a news conference Tuesday.
"We don't know if the dispatcher was busy doing other things, it took 20 seconds," Kunkle said.
Ramirez allegedly broadsided the car Annie Tovar Reyes was driving Monday afternoon in an East Dallas neighborhood. The grandmother of 18, who was one month shy of her 84th birthday, died as a result of her injuries.
Now Ramirez — who just had been released after jail five days before for stealing another bait car — faces felony charges of murder and theft related to the crash. He was booked and jailed again late Monday and was being held without bond.
Reyes' family believes the incident was entirely preventable and partly blames the Police Department for what occurred.
"I want to know why the car ran into my mother and what actually happened," said Reyes' daughter, Alice Leal.
"I know she's in a better place, but it kind of sickens me that it could have been stopped," said Reyes' granddaughter.
Popular Program's First Major Failure
Reyes' death is the first high-profile failure involving the bait car program, which is used by more than 100 cities across the nation as a safe way to catch car thieves.
In Dallas alone, more than 245 criminals have been caught since the program was implemented there in 2004.
Per Dallas police protocol, officers cannot ask for the kill switch to be activated until they have the decoy car in sight and believe it's safe to turn off the engine. They don't have the ability to remotely activate brakes on the vehicles, Kunkle said.
"Our policy, which we are reviewing, is we don't direct a bait car to be shut off unless officers see the vehicle, because we want to do that in an area and manner as safe as possible," Kunkle said.
Still, police believe the crime-fighting tool is useful.
"We still think the bait cars are a very, very valuable tool and a safer way to arrest auto theft suspects than almost any of the other alternatives," Kunkle said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.