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Woman identified as driver accused of leading Clackamas County deputies in deadly chase

OregonLive.com logo OregonLive.com 1/14/2022 Noelle Crombie, oregonlive.com

A woman accused of leading Clackamas County sheriff’s deputies on a car chase that ended in a fatal collision late last year was arrested Thursday on allegations of reckless driving and manslaughter.

Aunajae Smith, 22, was booked Thursday into the Clackamas County Jail, jail records show.

She faces allegations of recklessly endangering, reckless driving and second-degree manslaughter. She is being held on $255,000 bail.

The car chase, which took place Sept. 16, led to the death of Kris L. Nickelson, a 54-year-old Milwaukie man who was driving home from helping a friend.

The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office earlier identified Smith’s companion, Anthony Lucero, 29, as the driver. He was initially held in custody on a manslaughter allegation before he was released. On Friday, the sheriff’s office said only that investigators later determined that Lucero was a passenger not the driver.

The chase began after police responded to a report of a man who allegedly shoplifted a tool set from a Ross Dress for Less on Southeast 82nd Avenue.

Sheriff’s officials at the time said deputies tried to stop the car but the driver took off, the statement said.

That led to a chase that ended near the intersection of Southeast Bell Avenue and Southeast Johnson Creek Boulevard. Smith allegedly was the driver when the car went through the intersection and hit Nickelson’s car, killing him, the sheriff’s office said.

The Oregonian/OregonLive has requested the agency’s reports on the pursuit, which would detail the conditions and speeds reached during the chase. The sheriff’s office declined to release the information, saying the matter is under investigation.

Within 48 hours of Nickelson’s death, Sheriff Angela Brandenburg told deputies to limit chases to suspects who have seriously injured people or instances when the public is in “immediate danger.”

According to the sheriff’s office’s analysis, the number of chases rose from 2016 through 2020. In 2020, deputies engaged in 186 pursuits, up from 96 in 2016. The 2020 report, which the sheriff’s office released to The Oregonian/OregonLive in response to a public records request, found that a dozen chases that year resulted in injuries and 65 resulted in property damage.

Traffic violations consistently rank high among the reasons for why chases are initiated, according to the data going back to 2016. Likewise, Southeast 82nd Avenue is among the most common locations for pursuits to occur, the agency’s data shows.

— Noelle Crombie; ncrombie@oregonian.com; 503-276-7184; @noellecrombie

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