Crash, Flight — & Grab — On Grand

Allan Appel PhotosMy thoughts of “true piety” and “virtue” were suddenly interrupted Monday evening when a speeding driver sideswiped my car and hightailed it away from the police.

It started out like any other evening ride home. It turned into a firsthand look at the kind of crash and stolen-car escapades cops deal with daily in New Haven.

I was coming from covering a sedate new Yale Divinity School exhibition on the founding of early theological seminaries. It’s titled The Promotion of True Piety and Virtue. I picked up my wife at her office, and we headed along Grand Avenue into Fair Haven.

At around 6:15 p.m. we were driving east along Grand near James Street traveling 25 or so miles per hour, still in the thrall of having been transported back, through paper ephemera, to the early 19th century and Timothy Dwight’s sermon on the evils of dueling. Then — out of nowhere, with a muted,  scraping thud — we were sideswiped by a rapidly speeding car.

It was luckily a bump of a sideswipe, but it set my heart to beating. The offending car — small, not new, with a dark silver or black paint job — tore east going through lights along Grand. It was zooming, listing from side to side with the acceleration. My wife and I estimated — later, after we’d taken a deep breath — the car was traveling at least 50 miles per hour, scarily careening.

I think in the instant I knew there was going to be a crash.

Almost immediately police cars with lights flashing and alarms on — by my count at least six — came in pursuit from behind us west on Grand and from the other streets adjoining Grand.

I pulled over and checked the damage;  not much more than some scratches on the left rear side over the tire.

“You see how fast that guy was going?” I said to my wife. “We were very lucky.”

And within a few blocks, we were stopped when the police, who had assembled at Grand and East, blocked the ongoing east lane and were diverting cars south on East Street.

The reason was plain to see when we arrived at the intersection: The speeding car had crashed in some fashion obliterating its right fender.

An officer on the scene said the car had been stolen and the driver, after hitting another vehicle, had fled north on East Street by foot. But not very far.

“We got the guy,” reported one of the officers.

The stolen car appeared to be a Subaru, an older model.

I pulled south on East at the instruction of the officer after I’d explained our car had been slightly damaged. If I wanted the case number for insurance, I’d need to wait.

Nearby was a white Caravan damaged more seriously, with rear bumper on the left hanging, ready to fall off. The driver of that car, Nykolys Cruz, also was waiting for the case number, for insurance purposes.

He was on the phone, appeared a touch shaken or agitated. He was talking to his wife who, he said, couldn’t quite believe what he was telling her. Cruz was all right, uninjured, and he got the case number from the officer and drove on home.

I thought about the stark contrasts of the evening: Yale Divinity School exhibition: sedate, spiritual. A sideswipe from a stolen speeding car on Grand Avenue, which turned out to be nothing— for the car —but could have been fatal for others, and even for us. A matter of inches. A night in New Haven, or maybe any college town.

A Dramatic Arrest

It turns out that was one of around two dozen crashes police responded to Monday, a typical number. It also turns out an even more dramatic story involved the arrest of the suspect. Police spokesman Officer David Hartman Tuesday morning filled us in on what happened, with this written report of the incident:

“Officer Thomas Glynn was traveling southbound on Dixwell Avenue in an unmarked cop car. He spotted a stolen car stopped at the traffic light at Division Street.

“Glynn followed the hot Subaru as its driver made a U-turn on the avenue and parked near Gibbs Street. Glynn parked a block away and radioed in information on the car, driver, and location.

“Driving marked cruisers, Officers Steven Spofford and Christopher Boyle closed in. They switched on their emergency lights and sirens –  alerting the driver of the stolen car he was being stopped.

“Glynn pulled up. The car’s engine was off. The officers approached the driver. He was the only one in the car. They gave him an order to get out. That order was ignored. The driver started the car. Boyle tried the door. It was locked. He tried breaking the window with his flashlight. The flashlight was ineffective. The driver threw it into reverse and slammed into one of the marked cruisers. He then put it into drive and smashed into Glynn’s car.

“Glynn radioed in that the car was on the move –  south on Dixwell Avenue.”

A 20-year-old Peck Street man named Raekwon was behind the wheel. The pursuit was on.

“Officer Freddy Salmeron was in Fair Haven and stopped westbound on Grand Avenue at East Street. The patrol supervisor had just ordered the pursuit terminated. As Officer Salmeron waited for the light to change, the stolen Subaru slammed into a car stopped at the same intersection, but from the opposite direction.

“Officer Jeremie Elliot was stopped 50 yards behind Salmeron. Raekwon took off running. The cops took off after him. Officer Jazmin Delgado joined the short foot chase. It ended when Raekwon tripped and fell. He was handcuffed and brought to one of the cruisers.

“The Subaru’s blue-book value is about twelve grand – at least before Raekwon used it in demolition derby fashion. Raekwon was arrested and charged with first-degree larceny, interfering, engaging police in a pursuit, reckless driving, two counts of criminal attempt to commit assault on a peace officer, evading responsibility and following too close.”

According to the state judicial website, Raekwon has pleaded guilty to and served time behind bars for numerous offenses in recent years, including carrying a pistol without a permit, illegal possession of weapon in a motor vehicle, possession of weapon on school grounds, evading responsibility for an injury, first-degree larceny, and violation of probation.

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posted by: robn on December 5, 2017  1:24pm

You can’t make this stuff up…the drivers name was “Raekwon”? Rhymes with “wreck one”? seriously?

posted by: Peter99 on December 5, 2017  1:35pm

The wild west mentality prevails on the streets of New Haven. The bad guys know that the cops will not chase them if they are crazy enough. They do not care about the stolen car they are driving, or any object or person they collide with. For the most part it is probably a safe bet that it is not their first offence, nor will it be their last. They cannot be locked up forever, nor will anything short of physical impairment or old age slow their activities down. On any given night or at any given time we all could become targets. I do not have an answer or solution to the present sad state of affairs. It is scary!!!

posted by: NHVCyclist on December 5, 2017  1:42pm

I passed by this accident yesterday, since I was trying to make the left from Grand onto East St which was blocked.  I’m glad to hear that you and your wife are okay, and also thank you for writing this article.

As a driver, pedestrian, and cyclist in New Haven I have to operate in constant fear of this stupidity.  Grand Ave especially is a nightmare, even when the offending car isn’t stolen.
Can’t help but roll my eyes at that criminal record.  Glad my taxpayer dollars have to pay police to deal with this guy for the umpteenth time, instead of creating connected bike infrastructure, trimming precarious city trees, fixing roads and sidewalks…

I’ve long been calling for traffic calming measures on Grand Ave, particularly between Olive and the Mill River area where it’s a loud, dirty, stretch of lawlessness that terrorizes the bordering streets.

posted by: DrJay on December 5, 2017  3:11pm

I’ve been wondering about a technological solution to these car chases. Couldn’t new cars be equipped with a kill switch that police could activate remotely to turn the car off? I bet the technology would not be expensive, and could save enough on insurance to cover the cost. What am I missing here? Seems like something we should already have

posted by: JCFremont on December 5, 2017  3:28pm

@Allan and Spouse, glad your both ok.
@NHVCyclist, not to mention the cost to repair three police cruisers. Somehow I don’t think “traffic calming” devices are going to stop criminals like Raekwon, I suppose he might have crashed sooner. Nice that the police followed all rules which Officer Hartman needed to emphasis in his statement, keeping Raekwon in the perpetrator column.

posted by: 1644 on December 5, 2017  3:35pm

DrJay:  We already have remote-control on-switches.  Thieves pretty easily hack into them to unlock and start cars.    Yes, one would think we could have off switches, but they would need to be controlled by the owners, or are you thinking of something that would suddenly stop all traffic?
Peter99:  Three strikes laws were all about locking these guys up forever.  In Connecticut, though, we all about “rehabilitation” and second (infinite) chances.

posted by: NHVCyclist on December 5, 2017  3:36pm

@JCFremont
Right, traffic calming wont stop a vehicle theft.  It would have only caused a crash (or some sort of other blockage) sooner.  It may be more effective for minor stuff like speeding and reckless driving.  Seems to work pretty well in the areas of East Rock where it’s employed.

Honestly I’m just desperate for something…anything…to be done to make that stretch of Grand Ave less of a hellhole. 

In speaking to an officer once about an incident on a block running parallel to Grand; “Wooster Square Taxes, Grand Avenue Stupidity”

posted by: Ex-NHPD on December 5, 2017  4:40pm

Nice to see the NHI name a person arrested ( kind of, sort of; is that his full name?) and their past convictions.

Unless, this slipped through the editorial cracks and will soon be purged from the article.

[Ed.: That is not his full name. Policy remains.]

posted by: from there on December 5, 2017  4:51pm

Interesting story, but….what does any of this have to do with being in a “college town” as expressed in the story?  Either I’m missing something, or….is it a slam that I don’t get?

[Ed.: Was a reference to the event Allan had just attended, and the contrast tow hat hapened on Grand.]

posted by: Ex-NHPD on December 5, 2017  5:18pm

So, let me see if I have this right.

The NHI does NOT identify subjects arrested, prior to conviction, unless they admit/confess their crime(s) or are a public figure.

So, in this article, they gave us a partial name (not anything common like “John” or “Jones”),  age, street he lives on, and a peak at his conviction record.

Despite all this information, the NHI is confident that they are true to their journalistic mission of not identifying suspects arrested.

Ok, I got it now. (sarcasm).

[Ed.: My thought was that without the last name a person isn’t Google-able until he or she is convicted and the full name appears. But you’re right about the name not being common. I’ve never understand this intense desire of some cops to have the names of arrestees—rather than convicted people—immediately revealed, but I appreciate your efforts to keep us honest and our policy consistent.]

posted by: Ozzie on December 5, 2017  5:30pm

Bad tactics on the undercover cops part , he follows the bad guy till he parks the stolen car. If the guy parked the car the next thing I would think is the guy was gonna get out of it (he obviously drove there for some reason ) But the patrol units spook him and several police vehicles are damaged not to mention a chase across half the City . Whatever happened to the Departments pursuit policy and why did it take a supervisor so long to cancel the pursuit. Just goes to show the inexperience of the patrol officers , the undercover officer and the Supervisor. But that’s what you get when you have such a young police force . No more veteran cops to teach the young ones

posted by: narcan on December 5, 2017  7:26pm

Ozzie, I don’t believe you can appreciate how quickly a scenario like this can unfold. I will bet you a solid that the supervisor called off the pursuit within 60 seconds.

Bottom line is, everyone in New Haven knows if you want to commit any crime short of murder, and get away from the cops, just run a red light or swerve a little. The fact that this bottom feeder tried to attack the cops with his vehicle is likely the only reason a chase happened at all, for any period of time.

Sounds like a recipe to embolden criminal behavior to me, but what do I know. I think that engaging police in pursuit and reckless endangerment of the public at large should serious felonies with mandatory jail time attached.

posted by: 1644 on December 6, 2017  6:41am

From there:  The traditional reason people turn down Yale is that it is in boring, run-down New Haven, rather Boston.  Raekwon is doing his bit to address this problem by adopting a Bostonian driving style.

posted by: Ozzie on December 6, 2017  8:03am

Takes a lot longer then 60 seconds to get from Gibbs and Dixwell to a Grand and James, Either way a high speed chase through the City puts people in jeopardy. But what do I know . Question for Allen did they take your license and registration info or just give you a case #

posted by: SwampfoxII on December 6, 2017  8:30am

With that kind of criminal record, including serious and recent felonies plus a violation of probation, why was “Raekwon” even free and out on the streets? What is the court system waiting for, for him to kill someone?

posted by: Allan Appel on December 6, 2017  8:32am

To Ozzie: Yes, officer took reg and license info, photographing them, I believe. Thorough and professional

posted by: LookOut on December 6, 2017  10:29am

1644 and others.  This guy is on the street because Gov Malloy cares more about stats showing decreased prison population than in keeping people safe. 

The root cause of the problem are guys like this being out on the street and knowing that they can get away with most anything regarding a car.  Changing police policy or adding speed bumps is window dressing.

posted by: robn on December 6, 2017  11:10am

I’d much rather we throw people in jail for willfully dangerous driving than for smoking pot.
I agree with all others that drivers licenses should be much, much harder to get.

posted by: markcbm on December 6, 2017  11:11am

@robn

Not a Wu-Tang fan?

On the Raekwon legacy:

http://www.espn.com/blog/miami-dolphins/post/_/id/25315/hip-hop-icon-raekwon-rooting-for-dolphins-namesake

posted by: robn on December 6, 2017  12:02pm

MCBM,

Yeah but this one failed to protect his neck.

posted by: TheMadcap on December 6, 2017  12:09pm

Actually this guy is on the streets because he served 18 months of a 3 year sentence and will now probably serve the rest on top of whatever new time he is given. Or we can just go with the simpleton, “argh, everything is always worse, MALLOY!” crowd

posted by: markcbm on December 6, 2017  12:50pm

Or others’ necks!  :)