Crash driver 'knew family he killed'

The driver who killed himself and a family of three in a high-speed police chase knew the victims, his family claims.

23-year-old Justin Charles Williams was a serial car thief still on bail and was facing vehicle charges as he slammed a stolen Mazda 626 into their car at a speed of up to 150km/h.

Williams died instantly, as did the three occupants of the other car, Canberra couple Scott Oppelaar-Mills, 33, and Samantha Ford, 29, and their four-month-old baby boy, Brody.

Williams's passenger, his girlfriend Skye Webbe, 18, is in an induced coma in a serious but stable condition.

The Williams family said yesterday he was ‘good mates’ with Oppelaar, Fairfax reports.

Williams's criminal record dates back as far as 2002 and records multiple convictions for vehicle offences.

Williams was also facing a charge of stealing a car and leading police on a chase through south Canberra in 2008.

He was also behind the wheel of another stolen car which crashed in Queanbeyan, leaving him in a coma for three weeks and facing charges over vehicle theft.

Miss Webbe's mother, Debbie Webb, told a current affairs program that from what she knew of Williams, she "thought he was OK", but that she had not known much about his history.

Ms Webb said she probably would not have let her daughter go out with Williams had she known of the crash.

She said her daughter would have been scared and screaming in the car.

The deaths have reignited debate about the safety of high speed police chases - with police and politicians defending current pursuit guidelines.

The pursuit by NSW police began in Queanbeyan and continued across the border into Canberra before being called off shortly before the collision.

The crash, which came just months after the death in Sydney of 19-month-old Skye Sassine - who was killed when a car being chased by police crashed into her parents' Subaru - has stoked debate once again about the safety of police pursuits.

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties called for a moratorium on pursuits while a national approach is developed.

Meanwhile, a woman whose 21-year-old daughter was killed in 2005 by a teenage driver during a police chase, said police had a "fixation" on pursuing stolen vehicles.

"To my mind, pursuing stolen vehicles is very dangerous and pretty fruitless," Frances Rose told Fairfax Radio Network.

NSW Premier Kristina Keneally described the shocking accident as a tragedy for all those killed, their families and the pursing officers, but backed the police involved in the pursuit.

"Our police officers follow very strict guidelines when it comes to police pursuits and they do so safely," Ms Keneally told reporters in Sydney.

"We had police pull back from that pursuit and yet we still had this horrible tragedy occur."

NSW Police Minister Michael Daley saw no need for changes to the guidelines, and said to halt all chases would act as an open invitation to crooks.

What could police do instead of high speed chases?

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