FAYETTEVILLE -- The brother of a man killed when his car was hit by a fleeing driver in January wants to spare other families from a tragic, preventable loss. So, he's started a petition drive to bring awareness to the issue.
David Michael Pemberton, 56, who had recently moved to Northwest Arkansas from California, was killed Jan. 13 when Noah Cargill, 20, of Fayetteville fled from an Arkansas State Police trooper who was attempting to stop him for driving recklessly on Wedington Drive in Fayetteville, according to police.
Pemberton had moved for a fresh start and was helping his mother, who has had recent health issues, according to Jim Pemberton, his brother.
"He was simply going about his business when he lost his life due to this unsafe traffic pursuit," Pemberton said. "No family should lose a loved one over a traffic violation, or as a result of any over-aggressive, unsafe traffic pursuits of any kind."
Cargill fled, running a red light and traveling through a neighborhood at a high speed, according to police.
During the pursuit, Cargill swerved around cars on Rupple Road, nearly wrecking multiple times before losing control of his 2018 Dodge Charger and crashing into an oncoming 2010 Toyota Prius, killing Pemberton, according to police.
Cargill was arrested by the state police in connection with first-degree murder, being a felon in possession of a firearm, fleeing, reckless driving, driving on a suspended or revoked driver's license, speeding, operating a vehicle without insurance, careless driving, failure to stop or yield and running a red light.
The murder charge stems from Cargill actively committing two felonies -- fleeing from a state trooper and being a felon in possession of a firearm -- and acting in furtherance of those felonies when he caused a person's death under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, according to a preliminary police report filed with prosecutors.
Pemberton said his brother would still be alive if the police had stopped their pursuit.
"I went and visited the scene, and I was just shocked that a high-speed pursuit happened in a neighborhood where there are apartment complexes, a school, roundabouts," Pemberton said Friday. "It's evident and clear that that was not a safe area for a high-speed pursuit, and from the initial reports the speeds were up to 100 mph, maybe even more, in a residential area."
Col. Mike Hagar, director of the state police and secretary of the state Department of Public Safety, said Pemberton's death is a worst-case scenario.
"Troopers are trained to put the safety of the general public first. Troopers are instructed to do one of two things if they have someone fleeing from them," Hagar said in an email Friday. "They are to either engage that suspect and stop him as fast as they possibly can, or, if they cannot successfully do that, they are to disengage."
Jim Pemberton said other, less dangerous options should be available. He said there should be speed limits for a pursuit in a residential area. There should be limits on the length of a pursuit, such as how many blocks before it is called off, he added. But there's nothing like that, leaving it basically at the discretion of the officers.
The public's safety should be of the utmost importance, not catching the perpetrator or traffic violator, Pemberton said.
"In this case, this is a traffic violation, so you're going to pursue someone at 100 mph for a traffic violation in a residential area when you could call in an intercept, you can run plates. There are so many things they could do to not put all the public at risk and still catch the suspect," he said. "Well, they caught him, but he killed my brother, so clearly there was an imminent danger, and clearly that was not a good pursuit."
Pemberton and his family have started a petition aimed at bringing about change in law enforcement policy and improved training in regard to police pursuits and the safety of civilians.
The petition is in no way an attack on law enforcement, just a call for change to better protect others during traffic pursuits. It's a national issue that is worsening, he said.
His research shows between 2014 and 2018, there were over 2,000 deaths related to pursuits and 2020 saw 455 deaths -- an average of well over one death per day.
Hagar said that from 2016 to the first of this year, troopers engaged in 3,725 pursuits and tactical vehicle interventions were used just short of 1,000 times.
"In all of those pursuits, we did not have an innocent civilian fatality. Not one in all those pursuits," Hagar said. "But, one is too many, so we have been proactive in trying to get the message out to stop engaging in this type of behavior. We've done PSA's, we've done news releases, we've done social media posts. Because our primary concern is the general public. Our primary concern is that this is going to happen. This is the worst-case scenario. An innocent civilian lost their life."
In Arkansas, four drivers fleeing from state police died in 2023 as a result of a crash, making it the deadliest year for state police pursuits since at least 2016. Three of those deaths came after a trooper used a tactical vehicle intervention to end the chase.
In 2022, three people were killed in pursuits by troopers, state police data show, up from none in 2021. The state reported two fatalities from pursuits in 2020, one in 2019, none in 2018 and two in 2017.
By the end of October 2023, state police had recorded 513 pursuits, about 33% of which occurred in the Troop A patrol area that includes Pulaski, Saline, Lonoke and Faulkner counties.
That was higher than the 464 pursuits reported by the end of October 2022, the 493 reported by that date in 2021, and the 480 reported by the end of October 2020, data shows.
Fayetteville police say their pursuit policy is much more restrictive than that of the state police and that officers are seldom involved in high-speed pursuits largely because they operate in a different, more urban environment. Fayetteville officers were not involved in the pursuit of Cargill that led to Pemberton's death, according to Sgt. Stephen Mauk.
"We're policing a densely populated area, whereas they're for the most part doing policing activities on open highways," Mauk said. "We do not pursue unless we are chasing a violent felon."
Even then, officers weigh whether the greater threat to the public is coming from the individual remaining at large or from their pursuit of that person, Mauk said.
"So the person pursuing, even if it's a violent felony, if the circumstances become dangerous considering the pursuit itself like crashes and densely populated areas, the vehicle conditions, road conditions, all these other factors, it can be terminated," Mauk said. "It can also be terminated by a supervisor at any point."
Mauk said officers are not authorized to pursue unless they know on the front end that the person is being sought for a violent felony. Fayetteville officers have pursued bank robbers, shooting suspects and homicide suspects in the past, he said.
"If it becomes too perilous, then you shut it down," Mauk said. "Your mission is to protect the citizens, protect the officer and protect the person fleeing as well."
Mauk said another caveat is that if police know who the person is, they can get them later under safer, more controlled conditions rather than risking a pursuit.
"You set the conditions up to a more favorable outcome for everybody involved," Mauk said. "We'll just go get them later."