The man who led police on a car chase through Phoenix on Friday will face theft and unlawful flight charges but so far has avoided any further charges related to the mid-air helicopter crash that killed four newsmen.
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas said Tuesday his office will continue reviewing whether to file murder charges against Christopher J. Jones, 23, who police were chasing when the two news helicopters crashed while taping the incident.
Jones will face two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of theft and one count unlawful flight related to the car chase, Thomas announced at Tuesday’s news conference. If found guilty on all charges, he could face 127 years in prison.
Jones, 23, is being held in Maricopa County jail on $1 million bond.
Thomas said his office is continuing to work with the Phoenix Police Department and that the department has insisted he seek murder charges against Jones, who was leading the police chase when two helicopters crashed, killing four news crewmen.
“These people were doing an important job and that is providing news to the people of this community,” Thomas said.
Thomas has not said whether he will pursue homicide charges. He said much will depend on the results of the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. “The facts we need to complete this investigation just haven’t been complete,” he said.
Regardless, legal experts cautioned that could be a tough legal road to go down. Arizona law allows a criminal to be charged with murder if someone is killed while committing a felony.
The law assumes the criminal should have known there was a chance someone could have died while committing the crime. For example, if someone robs a store at gunpoint it’s reasonable to assume the gun could accidentally fire and kill an innocent bystander.
Legal experts also said the robber should presume that the cashier of the store could fire their own gun and kill an innocent customer.
But defense attorneys contacted by the Tribune have said it’s too early to determine what caused the crash and added that Jones could not have reasonably assumed that a pair news helicopters would collide while taping footage of the police chase.
On Friday, helicopters carrying news crews from KNXV-TV (Channel 15) and KTVK-TV (Channel 3) collided as they were covering the police pursuit of Jones.
The aircraft plunged to the ground and burst into flames in Steele Indian School Park at Indian School Road and Central Avenue.
The four men killed were ABC 15 pilot Craig Smith and cameraman Rick Krolak, and Channel 3 pilot Scott Bowerbank and cameraman Jim Cox. Services for Bowerbank and Cox were held Tuesday.
During the news conference, Thomas also announced charges against Edward James Rose, 20, and Norma Lisa Lopez, 19, arrested Saturday morning on suspicion of killing Phoenix Police officer George Cortez during a robbery of a check-cashing store. Both were charged with first-degree murder, burglary and forgery.