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Austin widow on a mission to change high speed pursuits

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Esther Seoanes says she shouldn't have to go to Austin Memorial Park to visit her husband.

"It's really hard to come here," Esther said as she walked to her husband's tombstone. "I have a hard time coming here."

The solemn serenity of James Williford's resting place is in stark contrast to chaos of the circumstances that took his life.

James was an innocent victim of a high speed chase after the suspect stole a Ford F-250 from Barton Creek Mall on June 15, 2012.

During the police pursuit speeds hit 90 mph.

Then the suspect speed through the red light at Pack Saddle Pass, slamming into James' white sedan.

"Unfortunately I pass by the intersection frequently and it's always James and I'm thinking of him," Esther said.

Esther blames the suspect and the Austin Police Department's chase policy for her husband's death.

"James was killed for a non-violent felony crime," Esther said. "He was killed because someone stole a truck."

Now as the executive director of PursuitSafety.org, Esther is calling on Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo to limit high speed chases to violent felony offenders only if there is no other way to stop the suspect.

She says statistics show that on average one person dies each day in police pursuits and one-third of them are innocent bystanders.

"A more progressive restrictive policy is safer for everyone," Esther said.

Chief Acevedo has strong opinions about pursuit policy.

"I always say a policy not to pursue is an invitation to chaos," Chief Acevedo said.

He says understands Esther's mission but believes APD's policy is progressive enough.

"We do have very strict policies in terms of pursuits," Acevedo said. "Two, we have supervisory review of all our pursuits. A violation of the pursuit policy results in disciplinary action."

APD is also one of the few departments using StarChase. The system propels a missile from the police cruiser with a high-tech magnet into the back of the suspects' car so officers can pull back and track the vehicle through GPS.

"I think if the pursuit policy was different James would be alive today," Esther said.

Now as she celebrates birthdays and anniversaries at the cemetery she hopes her effort to change pursuit policies nationwide will save lives.

"If I could save one life it would be amazing," Esther said. "Initiating a pursuit is just so dangerous for everyone."

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