On Jan. 30, a Conway, New Hampshire, police officer attempted to pull a man over for dangerous driving. When the man – later identified as Kenneth Ellis, of Hyannis, Massachusetts – refused to stop, the officer did as he was trained: He took down the suspect’s license plate number and turned his emergency lights off. Engaging in a high-speed chase that could put civilians in danger wasn’t worth the risk, he decided.

When Ellis crossed the state line into Maine a few minutes later, Fryeburg and Oxford County officers made a different calculation.

Five people were hospitalized as a result of the dramatic chase that ended on Main Street in Fryeburg that night – not counting Ellis, 52, whom Fryeburg police Officer Michael St. Laurent fatally shot after Ellis allegedly approached him with a knife.

The most seriously wounded were Danielle Hamalainen and her partner, Brandon Adjutant, of Conway, who were in Fryeburg to run a few errands when they crashed into Oxford County Deputy Justin Groetzinger’s SUV as he was pursuing Ellis.

Danielle Hamalainen, right, and her partner, Brandon Adjutant, of Conway, New Hampshire, were seriously injured during a police chase through downtown Fryeburg on Jan. 30. Hamalainen broke her neck in the crash and has suffered several strokes. Adjutant shattered his pelvis. Both remain in the hospital. Photo courtesy of Kathy Rogers-Hamalainen

Hamalainen broke her neck in the crash and has suffered several strokes as a result of the trauma, according to her mother, Kathy Rogers-Hamalainen. Adjutant shattered his pelvis. They remain in the hospital while their children wait for them to come home, she said.

Law enforcement agencies have long understood the risks of engaging in high-speed pursuits – most have concluded that the dangers usually far exceed the potential benefits – and Maine law requires that every department adopt specific policies that outline the circumstances where chases are acceptable. Both Fryeburg and Oxford County prohibit pursuits unless officers have reason to believe the suspect has committed a serious crime or poses an immediate safety risk to the public.


“Departments recognize that when a pursuit takes place, there’s really only a few possible outcomes,” said Dennis Kenney, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “And almost all of them are bad.”

It remains unclear why Maine officers chose to pursue Ellis, whether the chase violated department policies, or even whether anyone is investigating those questions. When asked who is looking into the chase, each involved agency gave a different answer, and no one claimed responsibility for that investigation.

A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office told the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram that the agency is only looking into Ellis’ shooting. Department of Public Safety spokesperson Shannon Moss said Friday that while state police are investigating the crashes, it is “not and would not investigate whether an agency violated their own policy. That would be up to the individual agency to determine that.”

Chief Deputy James Urquhart of the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office said his department isn’t investigating the pursuit either; they turned over everything it had about the crashes and the chase to the state agencies.

“It may take a while, but this is definitely something that is going to be investigated thoroughly just because of the amount of damage,” Urquhart said. “It’s just not that simple because (the case) has been handed over.”

Fryeburg’s police chief said he cannot talk about the chase because the attorney general’s office told him not to – a point that a spokesperson for the AG’s office disputes.


“All I can say is that the Officer involved shooting is under investigation by the AG’s office and the MV crashes are under investigation by the Maine State Police,” Chief Aaron Mick wrote in an email Thursday. 


Sgt. JD Hill was on patrol in Conway Village on Jan. 30 when he received a report that a black truck headed north on Route 16 was behaving erratically and passing cars at high speeds, according to Conway Police Chief Christopher Mattei. Moments later, Hill saw a truck matching the report stopped in a nearby gas station parking lot. Ellis stood next to the vehicle smoking a cigarette.

When Hill approached the truck, Ellis quickly put out his cigarette, got in the cab and drove off, Mattei said. He steered his truck into the wrong lane so he could pass several cars waiting at a nearby intersection, which Hill took as an obvious attempt to evade police, according to the chief.

Hill turned on his siren and emergency lights and attempted to stop Ellis, but the truck continued on Route 113 toward Maine. Ellis maintained the speed limit at first, Mattei said, but as the truck got farther from Conway, it began to pull away from the cruiser.

Ellis was on his way to see his son, who had recently been arrested in Maine, his ex-girlfriend told the Cape Cod Times the week after the shooting.


Hill asked other officers to set out a spike strip, but by the time it was ready, Ellis had already sped past, Mattei said. And by that point, Hill had already decided to call off the chase. He had taken down the truck’s license plate number, figuring he could easily track down the driver later.

The chief refused to share a copy of the department’s chase policy because he said releasing it could help suspects figure out ways to exploit it to escape from police. (Maine State Police have also refused to disclose their chase policy, citing similar reasoning.) But Mattei said Hill made the decision to end the Jan. 30 pursuit after making a risk-vs.-reward calculation that experts say has become standard throughout the industry.


When Kenney, the criminal justice professor, was a police officer in Florida in the 1970s, the pursuit policy was simple: If they ran, you chased.

“You chased until the wheels came off,” Kenney said.

But as law enforcement grew to understand the dangers of high-speed pursuits, most departments shifted their policies to protect the public and to shield themselves from the costly civil lawsuits that often followed, Kenney said.


Today, most departments ask officers to balance the need to apprehend a suspect immediately with the risk of pursuing, he said. The calculation can be complicated: Officers must weigh factors like the time of day, road conditions, the immediate danger the suspect poses to the public, and the vehicle conditions and driving skills of the pursuer, suspect and bystanders.

In general, Kenney said modern pursuit policies encourage police to err on the side of caution. Under some departments’ rules – including in Fryeburg and Oxford County – the decision to call off a chase is always considered correct. Only the decision to pursue can be second-guessed.

That’s because the risks of chases often outweigh the benefits. Once someone makes the decision to run from law enforcement, they tend to do everything in their power to avoid getting caught, Kenney said.

“You can make the argument that the need to stop them is pretty high because they’re reckless,” he said. “But if they flee, they’re not going to become less reckless. They’ll continue to accept increasing risk and expose everyone to increasing risk until they believe they’ve gotten away.”

The policies in Fryeburg and Oxford County make it clear that officers who decide to pursue another vehicle must consider the risk to the public.

“No task, call, or incident justifies disregard of public safety,” Fryeburg’s policy states. It also says officers should almost never continue a chase when they know the identity of the suspect and that they should not pursue vehicles for low-level class D and E crimes or other traffic offenses unless they can do so safely.


It’s unclear what level of charges Ellis would have been facing prior to the crashes.

The county’s policy says officers may not start a pursuit unless they have reason to believe a suspect has committed a violent crime or is operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an average of 396 Americans died each year as a result of police chases between 2017 and 2021 – and there’s reason to believe the real number is much higher. An investigation published last week in the San Francisco Chronicle found that close to two people per day are killed in crashes stemming from police chases, including over 550 bystanders between 2017 and 2022.

Police departments generally have good pursuit policies in place, Kenney said. But dangerous chases continue to result in death and property damage because adrenaline-fueled officers often struggle to put those policies into practice in the heat of the moment.

In recognition of this “extreme tunnel vision,” Conway revised its pursuit policy in 2020 to say that any officer – even a rookie on their first day on the job – can terminate a pursuit at any time, even if they aren’t the one engaged in the chase, Mattei said.

“You would hate to have somebody driving 100 mph through a neighborhood, you stop them and come to find out the reason that they ran from you is because they’re suspended because they didn’t pay a speeding ticket last month,” he said. “All the people that you potentially put at risk to make that arrest – is it worth it?”



After Hill called off the chase and the spike strips failed to stop Ellis, he got on his radio and alerted Maine officers that Ellis appeared to be headed to Fryeburg, just a few miles from the border.

The officer neither told them to pursue nor to let Ellis go – when a chase moves jurisdictions, it is standard practice to leave the decision in the hands of the officers in the new jurisdiction, Mattei said.

It’s not clear when or why Maine officers decided to pursue or whether they considered disengaging. The gas station where Hill first spotted Ellis is less than 10 miles away from where he was ultimately shot in Maine.

Both Fryeburg and Oxford County’s policies empower both pursuing officers and supervisors to call off a chase at any time.

A Fryeburg officer and Groetzinger, the sheriff’s deputy, were waiting for the truck when it got into town, and they attempted to stop it on Main Street, according to a statement released by the chief the day after the shooting. When Ellis continued driving at a high speed, the officers followed with their emergency lights on. Ellis barely made it a mile into Maine before he lost control of his truck.


Grainy video of the chase captured by a local business’s security camera and published by WTMW depicts four crashes in the span of just a few seconds.

Ellis was directly responsible for the first three crashes. The first collision with a 2006 Chevy Colorado caused only minor damage, Moss said. But then Ellis disabled one car and caused another to roll over. Both drivers went to the hospital with minor injuries, Moss said.

The third crash sent Ellis into a snowbank outside the frame of the security camera footage. About 35 seconds later, eight gunshots ring out. The attorney general’s office, which investigates all police shootings in Maine, has not yet fulfilled a public records request to release police body or dashcam footage of the shooting.

Danielle Hamalainen, of Conway, New Hampshire, was seriously injured during a police chase through downtown Fryeburg on Jan. 30. Hamalainen broke her neck in the crash and has suffered several strokes. Photo courtesy of Kathy Rogers-Hamalainen

The fourth crash happened moments after Ellis crunched into the snowbank. Hamalainen and Adjutant had been waiting to make a left turn off Main Street into a convenience store parking lot. They watched as the first police cruiser flew past with its emergency lights flashing. It’s difficult to make out exactly what happens next on the security camera video, but the sound of the fourth crash is audible about 10 seconds after the first cruiser passes.

After the first patrol car passed, Hamalainen had started to turn – directly into the path of Groetzinger’s SUV as he followed the pursuit, said Moss, the state police spokesperson. 

Kenney said crashes are common when multiple officers are responding to the same scene with their sirens on – civilian drivers stop for the first cruiser before pulling out into traffic because they don’t expect the trailing officer. Police are trained to avoid these situations, Kenney said, but it’s not clear whether Groetzinger violated any policies by following several seconds behind the Fryeburg cruiser.


Both agencies limit the number of pursuing vehicles to two in most circumstances and require the secondary vehicle to follow at a safe distance.

“The officer must remember that citizens using public roads do not expect their travel to be interrupted by a high-speed chase or to become involved in a crash as a consequence,” Fryeburg’s policy states.

Brandon Adjutant’s pelvis was shattered during a police chase in January. Photo courtesy of Kathy Rogers-Hamalainen

It took just a few hours for the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office to share a social media post asking the public to keep Groetzinger (who was unnamed in the post) in their thoughts and prayers as he recovered from minor injuries. But it took weeks for police to acknowledge the civilians who were injured in the chase.

According to the family’s fundraiser page, Adjutant remains in a wheelchair, and Hamalainen cannot yet speak because of a breathing tube. A family member is taking care of the couple’s four children.

Rogers-Hamalainen said she has not gotten much information about the crash from police.

“Quite honestly, I am so focused on Danielle, Brandon and the kids, I don’t have time to inquire about what exactly happened,” she said. “Just not enough hours in the day.”

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