AVOCA, Iowa — In the second high-speed chase this week in southwest Iowa, one man died Wednesday after the pursuit ended in a fiery crash a few miles north of Avoca.
The dead man was identified by the Iowa State Patrol as Bruce Coenen, 52, of Harlan. Two Iowa Department of Transportation officers also were injured.
Harlan police began the chase about noon on a report that the driver of a Pontiac Bonneville was drunk and driving more than 90 mph as he headed south on U.S. Highway 59.
The 20-minute pursuit included an attempt by DOT officers to block the Bonneville driven by Coenen. The Bonneville slammed into the rear of a DOT Chevrolet Tahoe at an estimated 60 to 70 mph. Coenen was pronounced dead at the scene.
In a pursuit Sunday morning that reached speeds of more than 90 mph, one man was wounded by a state trooper in Council Bluffs after two failed attempts to deploy a GPS tracking device on the fleeing vehicle. Another state trooper rammed the fleeing vehicle, causing it to overturn.
According to Iowa Department of Public Safety guidelines, a vehicle pursuit is justified “when, in the officer's judgment, the officer believes the risk to the public is greater without an apprehension when compared to the risk of the pursuit.”
Other factors to consider, the guidelines say, include the seriousness of the offense, volume of vehicle and pedestrian traffic, weather conditions and the probablity of making an arrest.
Firing a GPS transmitter at Coenen's vehicle was not an option Wednesday near Avoca. The State Patrol vehicle in Council Bluffs is the only cruiser in the state currently equipped with the technology.
The device allows police to track suspects, monitoring their movements via computer, then move in and make an arrest once they stop. Officials say the technology is important because traditional police chases can be dangerous.
Once Harlan police began the pursuit of Coenen, they radioed for help, and the State Patrol and Motor Vehicle Enforcement officers from DOT responded.
State Patrol Sgt. Jim Wissler said the Tahoe, northbound on Highway 59, did a U-turn and slowed down in front of the southbound Bonneville — an attempt to block the fleeing vehicle.
The Bonneville caught fire after crashing into the Tahoe, and state troopers who arrived put out the blaze, Wissler said.
The two DOT officers inside the Tahoe were hospitalized with injuries that were not believed to be life-threatening. They were identified as Kent Liebe, 58, of Carter Lake and Brian Rink, 40, of Griswold.
Highway 59 was closed for more than two hours as the crash was investigated. It reopened about 2:30 p.m.
In the Council Bluffs pursuit, Trooper Timothy Sieleman was placed on paid administrative leave following the officer-involved shooting near the South Expressway. The State Patrol has said he acted properly.
Sieleman was pursuing Michael B. Lee, 27, of Carter Lake, suspected of driving a stolen Dodge Ram truck without license plates. Lee was shot once and is expected to survive.
Kirby Kaufman of the World-Herald News Service contributed to this report.