Nearly three years after the car accident that killed sisters Jacqueline and Christina Becker, the debate has raged: Are high-speed police chases really worth it? Is the risk justified if someone who just happens to be driving by gets killed? Until the fatal crash that involved New Jersey State Trooper Robert Higbee and the Becker sisters in 2006, the answer from authorities had usually been yes.
The 17-year-old driver, Jacqueline, and 19-year-old Christina, who was riding shotgun -- came from a tightknit Italian family from Cape May County, N.J., just outside Atlantic City. Jacqueline loved history, art and drama. Christina dreamed of someday opening a bed and breakfast. But it all came to a horrible end Sept. 27, 2006, with a routine trip to the market to get milk.
The Becker girls had been staying with their grandparents, Geraldine and Cesar Caiafa, who were out for the evening. Just after 10 p.m., the girls called their grandparents and got permission to use their white Dodge Caravan to go to the market.
After they left the market for the half-mile drive back to their grandparents' house, Jacqueline made a right turn and headed down Tuckahoe Road toward the intersection of Stagecoach Road. At the same time, 34-year-old trooper Robert Higbee was tearing down the road, at one point going nearly 80 miles an hour in a 35-mile an hour zone. Higbee said he was chasing a speeder, but he was not using his lights or sirens.
Robert Taylor and son Michael were in a stopped car on the other side of the intersection when they noticed a car coming at extreme speed and then accelerated.
"I was just thinking to myself, 'When is he going to slow down?' And he gets 20 yards from the intersection and he puts his foot to the floor and he just accelerates," Robert Taylor said.
The trooper's car sped through the stop sign, exploding into the driver's side of Jacqueline and Christina's minivan. The two girls were killed instantly. The Taylor's minivan was hit by the girls' vehicle and the glass was blown out on the driver's side, but somehow the father and son survived.
By bizarre coincidence, at about the same time police and paramedics arrived, the girls' grandparents drove by the scene of the accident. When they arrived home to an empty driveway, Cesar Caiafa knew something was wrong.
The Caiafa's rushed back to the accident scene and called Maria Caiafa, the girls' mother. After she arrived, all three just stood there in shock, waiting to hear the dreaded words that confirmed their nightmare.
"The policeman came to me, and finally after three hours he said, 'Do you live at 331 West Quail Drive?' He says, 'The car is registered to that address' … and that was it," Geraldine Caiafa recounted.
Trooper Higbee's vehicle was also badly damaged, and he was hospitalized briefly for a concussion. After the accident, Higbee was given a ticket for running a stop sign and assigned to desk duty, pending the state's criminal investigation.
Maria Caiafa saw her world instantly shattered. Her only two children were gone. "I want to actually just curl up in a ball and die. But I can't, because I feel like every minute I have to speak out and fight for my children," she said. "My children are dead, and his [Higbee's] actions have led to that."