Police obtain new device to stop chases

March 27, 1997


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Speeding motorists who try to outrun the West Virginia State Police may have a surprise coming their way.

Troopers say they have a new way to stop fleeing motorists - "stop sticks," a gadget that punctures a suspect's car tires and causes the tires to slowly deflate.

Police were reluctant Thursday to describe in detail how the devices work. They also would not allow a photograph to be taken of the sticks.


Sgt. Jack Hockman said stop sticks are laid in the road before the suspect's vehicle approaches. The devices can puncture one tire or all four, Hockman said.

Hockman declined to say whether a high-profile pursuit that ended in the death of an Inwood, W.Va., woman was a factor in the decision to purchase the devices.

"That would be pure speculation," Hockman said. "We're dealing with the here and now."

Amanda Marie Smailes, 21, was on her way home from work at the Martinsburg Wal-Mart on Nov. 24 when her car was rammed from behind by a car that was being pursued by state police.

State police believe the Nissan 200 SX they were chasing on U.S. 11 may have been traveling at about 100 mph when it struck Smailes' car near Smiley's Inn in Darkesville.

Robert Lee Sparkman Jr., 28, of Gerrardstown, W.Va., the driver of the Nissan, was charged with driving under the influence resulting in death, according to court records.

Hockman said the stop sticks are not the definitive answer to pursuits, and that high-speed chases are still allowed by the department.

The stop sticks, which were purchased in December by state police, have not been used yet locally, Hockman said.

Cynthia Smailes, Amanda Smailes' mother, said she is encouraged by the technology. "We're all for anything that would help," she said.

Only a limited number of state police detachments in the state have stop sticks, Hockman said.

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