Officer injured as crash ends car chase

Det. Lt. Kevin Smith gives details on a Nassau County police officer seriously injured when her cruiser hit a guard rail and then was struck by another car as she pursued a suspicious vehicle on the Southern State Parkway. Videojournalists: Howard Schnapp and Jim Staubitser (Nov. 21, 2011)

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A Nassau County police officer was seriously injured Monday when she swerved her patrol car into a guardrail on the Southern State Parkway to avoid hitting a driver she was chasing who abruptly hit the brakes, officials said.

The officer's car was then hit by a vehicle after bouncing off the guardrail and back into parkway traffic, police said. The driver of the dark gray sedan fleeing the officer remained at large Monday night, police said. There were two people in the fleeing car, said Nassau Police Lt. Kevin Smith.

The crash caused the eastbound parkway to be shut down at Exit 31, Bethpage State Parkway, for about 41/2 hours while police investigated. Officials reopened the road shortly before 5 p.m.

The officer was airlifted to Nassau University Medical Center where she was listed in serious but stable condition Monday night, officials said. Police would not release the officer's identity Monday night, but they said she is a veteran of nearly 20 years on the department, married and has children.

Smith gave the following account of what led to the crash:

The officer was responding to a call of a suspicious car about 12:20 p.m. after a witness saw two individuals replacing Pennsylvania license plates with Florida plates on the gray sedan in the vicinity of South Park Drive and Pine Street in North Massapequa.

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When the Seventh Precinct officer arrived, she spotted the car and began to follow it onto the Southern State Parkway, entering in the vicinity of Linden Boulevard near Bethpage State Parkway, heading east.

As the fleeing car and police officer approached just west of the underpass of Route 110, the driver of the car hit the brakes -- a maneuver, police believe, that was done to lose the officer and make her take evasive action.

Not wanting to strike the vehicle from behind, the officer abruptly cut to the right and hit a guardrail, Smith said. Both the suspects' car and the patrol car were traveling about 60-65 mph during the chase, he said.

The impact propelled the patrol car back into traffic, where it was struck by another vehicle headed eastbound. The patrol car ended up on the left and middle lanes of the Southern State underneath the Route 110 overpass.

The two occupants of the vehicle that hit the patrol car were not injured. The police officer suffered injuries to her head, neck, upper shoulders and chest area, Smith said.

Police have stepped up patrols in the area after reports of up to 14 burglaries in the past month.

"So it's not unusual for our officers to try to get to a scene like that and see what we can find," Smith said.

Smith said the officer turned on the car's lights and siren because the occupants were suspected of switching licenses plates and "there is reasonable suspicion that this car should be pulled over."

Nassau police officers consider three factors before starting a pursuit: Whether it will endanger the public, the weather and road conditions, and the speed and the location of the pursuit.

With John Valenti

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