UPDATED at 7:50 p.m. Thursday with more information.
ST. LOUIS — Police officers attempted to stop a speeding car before it collided with another vehicle and caused a chain-reaction crash that killed two people in the Vandeventer neighborhood, authorities said Thursday.
But police officials stopped short of calling the officers’ actions Wednesday night a chase or pursuit. “To my knowledge there was no pursuit,” police spokesman Evita Caldwell said.
One of the men who died was identified as Daron Whitt, 39. Police said Whitt was driving a car that was eluding officers before it crashed about 7:35 p.m. Wednesday in the 4200 block of East Page Boulevard, near Whittier Street.
The name of the second man who was killed has not been released.
Four vehicles were involved in the crash. Police have not released details on what injuries the other motorists and passengers suffered.
Whitt was driving a 2017 Infiniti Q50. Officers on patrol spotted the Infiniti at Page and Grand Boulevard as being wanted in connection to an assault and robbery case.
Authorities said in a statement that a police helicopter was requested to track the Infiniti in anticipation of it fleeing from officers.
The officers tried to stop the car but it sped off, heading west on Page, authorities said. The Infiniti attempted to drive around a Nissan Altima but struck the back of it.
That caused the Infiniti to spin around into the eastbound lanes of Page, and the Altima struck the side of it, police said. Another vehicle then collided with an SUV. Both Whitt and the driver of the SUV died at the scene.
Police who responded to the wreck told the Post-Dispatch that no police chase was involved, but Emanuel Powell, a staff attorney with the legal advocacy nonprofit ArchCity Defenders, said a police chopper overhead could make a driver think he was being chased.
Police chases nationally have drawn scrutiny because some have ended in deadly wrecks that critics say could have been avoided if pursuing officers had backed off in light of the dangerous circumstances.
Video and witness testimony need to be reviewed to see if Wednesday’s events are consistent with the police account, Powell said.
“That is why witness accounts and video are so important and you can’t necessarily trust what police say,” he said.
A crowd gathered downtown Thursday evening, stopping outside St. Louis Metropolitan Police Headquarters and chanting for justice for Whitt. A crowd also gathered at the scene of the crash to commemorate Whitt and call for an investigation.