An early-morning traffic stop Tuesday turned to tragedy when a motorist fled police, entered the Northern State Parkway in the wrong direction and then slammed into an oncoming car in Dix Hills, killing both drivers, Suffolk County police said.
The chase began, police said, when an officer from the Third Precinct pulled over a motorist in a 7-Eleven parking lot at 1074 Motor Pkwy. in Central Islip because the license plates on her Dodge Durango did not match the registered vehicle.
"During the officer's investigation, he was also attempting to determine if the vehicle's female operator was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs," police said in a statement.
The driver then fled in the vehicle, going 5 miles west on Motor Parkway onto Vanderbilt Parkway and entering the Northern State Parkway at Commack Road, heading west in the eastbound lanes, police said.
The woman hit an eastbound 2011 Honda Accord about 2:40 a.m. between Route 231 and Wolf Hill Road, killing the Honda's driver, a 60-year-old Smithtown man, and herself, police said. Their identities were not released pending formal identification, police said.
"Subsequent to the crash, the Dodge Durango became engulfed in the flames," the police statement said. "In an effort to save the woman from the burning vehicle, the police officer used fire extinguishers from his marked police vehicle in an unsuccessful attempt to extinguish the flames."
Both drivers were pronounced dead at the scene. There were no passengers in either vehicle.
Photos of the crash show the crumpled, burned-out shell of the Durango and the wreck of the Accord.
Brendan Heddle, an employee of News 12 Traffic & Weather, was heading west to work in Woodbury on the Northern State when he said he saw a sport utility vehicle driving in the wrong direction on the eastbound parkway and being followed at high speed by a Suffolk County police car, News 12 Long Island reported.
Suffolk County police refused to comment on procedures for police pursuits and directed questioners to policies outlined on its website.
Those policies state that "the primary responsibility of a police officer initiating a pursuit is to ensure the safety of the public and the police officers involved."
Those policies also say that a pursuit can begin only if the driver "clearly exhibits the intention of avoiding arrest" and the officer "reasonably suspects" the driver has committed or is about to commit a violent felony, the policy states.
In addition, a pursuit can begin where a person is suspected of any crime and "may be operating a vehicle in an intoxicated condition, or an individual who is operating a vehicle in a manner so reckless as to present a clear and immediate threat to the safety of the public," the policy says.
Another section reads: "Officers shall not pursue suspects the wrong way on interstate or other controlled access highways or divided roadways unless specifically authorized by the field supervisor."
Police did not say whether permission was requested or granted in Tuesday's chase.
With John Valenti