The shocking deaths of three children and a young mother mowed down Wednesday night by a speeding car that Philadelphia police say was fleeing a gunpoint motorcycle theft were as senseless as they were avoidable.

No one should die for doing something as ordinary as gathering outside their homes on a warm spring evening and playing on the pavement in the city's Feltonville section.

But the lives of Gina Marie Rosario, 7; Remedy Smith, 11 months; and Alliyah Griffin, 6, were snuffed out by the careening car that jumped a curb. Remedy's mother, Latoya Smith, 22, succumbed yesterday to her injuries from the same crash.

Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said the blame rests squarely with the car's driver, identified as 18-year-old Donta Cradock. He and Ivan Rodriguez, 20 - his alleged partner in the motorcycle heist leading up to the fatal crash - will face homicide and robbery charges.

Recklessly speeding down a city street certainly demonstrated what Ramsey called a "total disregard for human life." If convicted, these men should be given a good long stretch behind bars to think about the tragic impact of their callous deeds.

The fast-moving events in Feltonville underscore how easy a car speeding through the city's narrow streets can lead to tragedy.

Often the Philadelphia police are involved in the dangerous car chases. Indeed, police pursuits resulted in about 60 people being injured last year.

The human toll tragically included two from the department's ranks - Officer Isabel Nazario and Sgt. Timothy Simpson, who died in wrecks resulting from hot pursuits. At the time, the department was operating under chase procedures that Ramsey regarded as being 10 years out of date.

Ramsey has since implemented new chase procedures, but he hasn't disclosed the details to the public. At the time, he said the new procedures would be "highly restrictive."

To their credit, officers responding to the 7:30 p.m. motorcycle theft on Wednesday apparently did not get into hot pursuit with Cradock's Pontiac, police officials said yesterday.

One traffic cop pulled up behind the car at a light on Roosevelt Boulevard, got out, and sought to arrest the suspect. But the driver sped off, turned down Third Street, and crashed only minutes later.

Even so, Ramsey said officers would have been permitted to pursue the suspects under the new procedures. That indicates the new policy allows for times when police may still engage in high-speed pursuits.

A no-chase policy - while going against a crime-stopper culture - would be safer for police and the public. Experts suggest that it might even slow down perps fleeing a crime scene.