Behind her, bullets were exploding from a burning car on I-95 off Exit 52. Ahead of her, the driver, whom she’d been chasing from the west side of New Haven, had fled into woods. A rickety 6-to-7-foot-high chain link fence blocked her path.
Piece of cake.
Officer Sheree Biros (pictured) knew what to do. She didn’t have to slow down.
She set her sights on a pole, always the sturdiest spot. She flew toward the fence, stuck a foot into a link near the pole, propelled her body up.
In one motion she stepped onto the top of the fence, then leapt to the ground.
Just like a trained gymnast who pole-vaulted her way through adolescence. Just like a cop used to jumping fences to catch crooks.
Just like Biros.
“I love finding people,” she said. “I love fences. It’s just an obstacle. Whatever you do, you’ll be right behind them until they get tired or trip or mess up.”
She stayed right behind the driver all through town in the dramatic chase that ended in the fiery I-95 crash last Friday. Lots of cops played a part in eventually capturing and arresting the driver. By all accounts, Biros played a leading role—one she has played repeatedly, thanks to quick instincts and athletic prowess.
At least three times in recent months, that role has involved confronting a fence.
Upside Down, Early
Biros (pronounced BYE-roce), who’s 31, discovered her athletic muse early on. “I taught myself how to walk on my hands when I was 5,” she recalled, “from the back door to the front.” (Biros and her husband, fellow New Haven cop Duane Biros, have a 5-year-old-daughter—who’s also walking on her hands.) From 10 years old to 20, Biros competed on a gymnastics team, sometimes nationally. Her favorite event: the vault.
“It was the greatest,” she recalled while working a stick of watermelon Trident chewing gum hard during an interview. “It was the most powerful. You run. You kick the vault. You jump.”
Since she joined the force seven years ago, Biros has found that talent useful in pursuing suspects.
It was useful this past Oct. 6. when Capt. Leo Bombalicki radioed for help in locating a driver of a stolen Jeep tearing through the Edgewood neighborhood at 70 miles per hour.
Biros responded; she was nearby on Ellsworth. She soon saw the Jeep crash at Chapel and Ellsworth. She saw the 19-year-old driver leap out and start running.
She and Bombalicki, who was also nearby, jumped out of their cruisers and gave chase.
Biros followed the fleeing driver into a backyard. She saw him jump an 8-foot fence.
Now it was her turn.
This fence was made of wood. She headed to a corner.
“That’s where your base is going to be,” she said. “I did my own fence [at home]—two feet of cement every eight feet.”
With no chain links to step into for leverage, Biros counted on friction. She hit the fence with the rubber sole of one of her shoes and was propelled to the top.
She didn’t try to catapult all the way over the fence. She knows the gear can put her at a disadvantage in a chase, not just slowing her down, but potentially getting caught at the point of a picket.
She placed her foot on top of the fence. “I look down to see what I’m going to jump into. Then I jump.”
She saw the fleeing driver run to hide behind a house. “I don’t think he thought I was going to jump the fence,” she said. But she did. She saw him. She put him against the house and handcuffed him.
Another wooden fence had greeted her weeks before that, when she was chasing an alleged robber in the Hill.
Earlier that day Biros had been investigating a complaint from a woman in the Hill who said her boyfriend stole her van. Biros asked the woman to call if the man returned.
Meanwhile, the East Haven police had reported someone in the same van had committed a commercial robbery in their town.
Biros was at the substation on Congress Avenue when the call came: the man had returned. Aware that the girlfriend had called the cops, he took off running.
Biros looked at the street. By coincidence, a man meeting the description was running by. Right there on the block.
“I’m like, ‘No way,’” she recalled thinking. Yep, it was the guy. After “banging a 99” priority radio call, she took off after him.
The chase led to a backyard and “a wooden stupid picket fence.” Unbeknownst to both of them, piles of construction debris—mesh orange fencing—awaited on the other side. First the suspect, then Biros, leapt. They both jumped into the debris. Alerted to the chase’s direction, Officer Jason Jackson had arrived in the yard. He held the suspect, and Biros handcuffed him.
Three other officers ended up physically stopping the fleeing driver Biros was chasing in last Friday’s dramatic chase that ended with the fiery I-95 crash.
Some of her other skills, rather than her fence-jumping, proved crucial in that well-coordinated group effort, said Sgt. Max Joyner, Biros’s supervisor in the Whalley-Beaver Hills-Edgewood district.
“Without hesitation, she will drop what she’s doing to assist another officer. She is quick to act,” Joyner observed.
“You want to make sure when an officer needs assistance, they see blue,” Biros said. “It’s always nice to see blue.”
It was just before 4 p.m., the first hour of Biros’s shift. She was outside a door at Goffe Street and Sherman Avenue following up on a complaint. No one was answering.
A call came on the radio for help. A man wanted on weapons charges had fled the cops on Beers Street.
Biros hopped in her cruiser and headed over. A half-dozen or so officers went to Edgewood Avenue. They learned they had driven too far. The suspect was nearby, in the other direction, nearby on the Boulevard.
The other cops pulled into reverse to back toward him. Biros pulled a U-turn instead onto Boulevard. She was the first to locate the suspect, who was stopped at a light in an old-model Buick.
A game of non-verbal communication began.
Biros saw him look around with a shocked expression when he noticed her car. She translated the expression as: “Oh my God, they’re here for me.”
She turned on her lights to tell him to pull over.
“He pulls a U-Turn in front of me [instead]. Almost takes out my car.” He hit the gas. She followed behind.
For a while she was the only one within sight. She radioed in the course: Maple Street. Brownell. Whalley. Norton Parkway.
For a while the pace stayed at around 25 or 30 miles an hour, she said.
On Goffe, the suspect pulled into the wrong lane on traffic. Biros interpreted the move to mean: “I’m going to drive recklessly, hoping you’ll cut the chase off.”
Instead of following in the wrong lane, she drove alongside him in the correct line as he turned onto Crescent, then through the streets of Newhallville, up the hill on Huntington Street, then down the hill into East Rock, down to State. The pace picked up.
Along the way Biros kept other officers aware of the route over the radio. Rather than converge on the driver in a chase, the cops try to fan out on nearby streets to anticipate where a driver might head while one or two officers directly tail a fleeing suspect, to close off escape routes.
“We’re headed towards the highway,” Biros announced as they approached an entrance to I-91. Chases often lead that way. But the driver surprised her: He stayed on city streets into Fair Haven.
“Every corner we turned there were officers,” Biros recalled. Officer Terrence McNeill took the lead behind the driver as Biros tailed behind.
The cops thought the driver might head to a Fair Haven address where he used to live. He surprised them again, crossing over Ferry Street into the Annex, up towards Forbes Avenue and the East Shore.
He swerved left onto Forbes and toward I-95—continuing onto the highway straight into opposing traffic.
That was it. “The chase was terminated immediately.”
Biros didn’t follow. Instead she slowed down. Ahead, the driver crashed his car into a box truck and another car. His car erupted in flames. A gun was inside the car; bullets started shooting out of it.
“I need fire personnel,” Biros remembers radioing in. “The car’s engulfed in flames.” McNeill called for an ambulance for the drivers.
With traffic stopped, Biros traveled in the breakdown lane to the scene. Other cops had arrived too.
Biros ran up to the box truck driver to make sure he was OK. He was.
Then Biros approached a trucker who’d stopped at the accident. Both yelling amid the noise, she then relied on hand signals to ask where the driver had gone. He pointed her to an embankment by the side of the highway.
That’s when she ran down the embankment and jumped the fence.
On the other side, she couldn’t see the man. She heard on the radio that a call had gone out for police dogs to search the area. That meant her job was done.
“At that point you don’t want to move. You don’t want the dog to smell you” on the trail rather than the suspect, she said. She “held my position” until she heard that other officers—who turned out to be Jeffrey Fletcher, Nancy Jordan, and Nick Marcucio—had caught up with the suspect and arrested him.
It took a lot of officers to keep on top of the suspect and catch him, Joyner said. He and another supervisor at the scene, Sgt. Anthony Zona, credited Biros with making it all possible by being the first to find the suspect, then keeping him in sight, while staying calm and providing solid information on the radio throughout the chase.
“When you’re caught up in the moment,” Joyner observed, “that’s hard to do.”
Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:
• Shafiq Abdussabur
• James Baker
• Lloyd Barrett
• Maneet Bhagtana
• Paul Bicki
• Scott Branfuhr
• Dennis Burgh
• Rob Clark & Joe Roberts
• Sydney Collier
• David Coppola
• Roy Davis
• Joe Dease
• Milton DeJesus
• Brian Donnelly
• Anthony Duff
• Robert DuPont
• Bertram Etienne
• Paul Finch
• Jeffrey Fletcher
• Renee Forte
• Marco Francia
• William Gargone
• William Gargone & Mike Torre
• Derek Gartner
• Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
• Dan Hartnett
• Ray Hassett
• Robert Hayden
• Robin Higgins
• Ronnell Higgins
• William Hurley & Eddie Morrone
• Racheal Inconiglios
• Juan Ingles
• Paul Kenney
• Hilda Kilpatrick
• Herb Johnson
• Peter Krause
• Peter Krause (2)
• Amanda Leyda
• Rob Levy
• Anthony Maio
• Steve McMorris
• Juan Monzon
• Chris Perrone
• Diego Quintero and Elvin Rivera
• Stephanie Redding
• Tony Reyes
• Luis & David Rivera
• Luis Rivera (2)
• Salvador Rodriguez
• Brett Runlett
• David Runlett
• Marcus Tavares
• Martin Tchakirides
• Stephan Torquati
• Gene Trotman Jr.
• Kelly Turner
• Lars Vallin (& Xander)
• John Velleca
• Holly Wasilewski
• Alan Wenk
• Stephanija VanWilgen
• Michael Wuchek
• David Zannelli
• David Zaweski