25 Mar 2009

Police seeking pair after stolen car plunges into harbour

5:58 pm on 25 March 2009

Police on Auckland's North Shore are looking for two people over a police pursuit of a stolen car.

A police officer was struck by the car before it plunged into water off Beach Haven Wharf on Tuesday morning.

Police say they want to speak to Sheean Leroy Heta, 23, of Otara and Linda Cherie Phillips, 33, from Mangere. Warrants have been issued for their arrest.

Police spent Wednesday morning checking a number of South Auckland addresses but made no arrests. They say their land-based search for the two remaining occupants of the car has ended.

Twelve officers will do a final sweep of the Beach Haven estuary on Wednesday afternoon at low tide to make sure neither drowned while trying to escape.

The injured 23-year-old officer, who has been with the police for 18 months, suffered extensive bruising and abrasions, but is recovering well in hospital. Police hope he will be released in a few days.

A 28-year old man, John Manaia Ranapia, has appeared in North Shore District Court charged with burglary and unlawfully getting into a motor vehicle. He remanded in custody and will reappear in April.

Police believe three people were in the stolen vehicle when it crashed off the wharf after a 25-minute chase during which the police officer was struck and thrown into the air while laying road spikes.

The vehicle dropped nearly four metres on to rocky mudflats. More than 60 police officers spent the day searching for the car's occupants.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has been informed, and police say an investigation will start shortly to review the procedures followed during the crash.

Concern at 'risky' tactics

The Police Association says restrictions on police pursuits may make them more dangerous.

Association president Greg O'Connor says each time an accident results from a police chase, restrictions are placed on police, giving criminals an incentive to try to out-run police.

Mr OConnor says other tactics such as spikes are used, but in cases such as Tuesday's incident, that is risky.

"Road spikes are one of those things - they're absolutely essential, but they do actually add to dangers, particularly to police officers, and other road users. So it merely becomes a case of moving the danger from one area into another."

Last year, Sergeant Derek Wootton, 52, died after being struck by a car while laying road spikes in a Wellington suburb.

The spikes were being laid to stop a stolen car during a high-speed police chase in July. A man charged with murdering Mr Wootton is currently before the courts.