VASSALBORO — A brother of one of the two men killed in a Saturday crash said he’s upset at the driver and the Winslow policeman who chased the car he rode in, but the department’s chief said his sergeant followed department policy “to the letter.”

Ronald Willey, 32, of Chelsea, and his passenger, Joseph Knox, 28, of Randolph, were both killed instantly in the crash, which began during the wee hours in Winslow near the Cumberland Farms gas station at the intersection of Augusta and China roads. The high-speed chase ended on Vassalboro’s Bog Road when the 2004 Dodge Stratus car veered off the road and slammed into a tree.

Winslow Police Sgt. Haley Fleming was initially trying to stop Willey’s car over a defective tail light at 1:15 a.m. Willey drove into the gas station parking lot and appeared to be slowing down before he continued through the lot at a high speed, hitting a gas pump curb in the process, according to Winslow Police Chief Shawn O’Leary.

O’Leary said that incident led Fleming to give chase because there was a risk to the public.

Josh Milne of Randolph, Knox’s brother, said he doesn’t understand “how the cop could pursue them just for a tail light out,” but he said he places most of the blame for the crash on Willey, who he said his brother knew as a “drinking buddy,” but not “a real good friend.”

“I don’t feel that the cop is 100 percent to blame. I feel it’s Ron Willey,” Milne said Monday. “My brother didn’t ask to go on the last ride of life.”

While O’Leary said “it’s unfortunate that two people lost their lives,” he was impressed with Fleming’s handling of the situation, saying he “knew exactly what was required.”

“He followed the policy to the letter,” O’Leary said.

The Maine Criminal Justice Academy provides a model pursuit policy to state law enforcement agencies, which “balance the pursuit’s danger to the public” against the danger of allowing the suspect to escape, while also weighing the seriousness of the crime they’re suspected of, the possibility of apprehension and traffic conditions.

Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said that’s a minimum policy and versions of it exist in Maine departments “with modifications to meet the certain community’s needs.”

O’Leary said that Willey was driving erratically and McCausland said there’s a “strong suspicion that alcohol was involved” in the crash, but test results haven’t been returned yet and the Maine State Police investigation of the crash is still active.

Four months ago, O’Leary said Winslow’s department reviewed its pursuit policy, which he said previously allowed officers to initiate chases in many circumstances. O’Leary said the change narrowed the circumstances in which an officer should chase a criminal suspect, but it allows for officers to chase someone who is “causing an imminent risk to the public.”

Fleming taught the class updating Winslow officers on the change.

The chase Saturday morning in Winslow and Vassalboro lasted about 10 minutes and went for nine miles with speeds reaching up to 80 mph. O’Leary said that at times Fleming wasn’t following the car closely, because he slowed down at the intersections that Willey flew through. He came upon the car after it crashed into the tree on Bog Road on a curve and the crest of a hill near Vassalboro Community School.

Firefighters had to use extrication equipment to remove the two bodies.

Maine State Police are conducting the crash investigation. A team of eight troopers went to the crash site along with the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office and the Vassalboro Fire Department.

Willey was a habitual motor vehicle law offender driving without a license. State records show that he was convicted eight times for driving offenses from 2006 to 2012, including driving to endanger. He also had a lengthy criminal history, including a 2012 conviction for domestic violence assault after trying to strangle a girlfriend with a shoelace.

Knox, who went to Gardiner Area High School, had a minor criminal history, but Milne called him “a little guy” with “a heart just as big as he is.”

He said his brother never got a driver’s license because he feared driving at high speeds.

On Monday, a memorial to Knox sat amid glass and car parts at the bottom of the tree with writing on a rock saying “RIP Joey.” Milne called Knox his best friend.

“He always cared about how people were doing, and he tried to put a smile on their face and he’d do it, no matter what mood they were in,” he said.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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