By Edward Upright

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Police in Washington could have avoided shooting dead a woman pursued by officers in a car chase that led to the lockdown of the Capitol this week, the driver's sister, former New York police sergeant Valarie Carey, said late on Friday.

The family of Miriam Carey, whose one-year-old daughter Erica was in the car with her during the encounter with police on Thursday, has said she suffered from post-partum depression.

Carey, 34, a resident of Stamford, Connecticut, tried to drive her black Infiniti coupe through a barrier near the White House, then sped toward Capitol Hill, leading police on a high-speed chase that ended when her car got stuck on a median and police shot her.

"My sister could have been any person traveling in our capital," Valarie Carey told reporters outside her Brooklyn home. "Deadly physical force was not the ultimate recourse and it didn't have to be."

The chase and shooting came at a time of high political tension in the U. S. capital with Congress debating how to resolve the shutdown of the federal government. The Capitol was locked down after the shots were fired.

In another incident that caused alarm in Washington, a man appeared to have set himself on fire at the National Mall on Friday. He was listed in critical condition at a hospital.

Law enforcement sources said Carey did not shoot a gun and there was no indication she had one.

"I'm more than certain that there was no need for a gun to be used (by police) when there was no gunfire coming from the vehicle," Valarie Carey said. "I don't know how their protocols are in D. C., but I do know how they are in New York City."

Representatives from the Capitol Police and the District of Columbia's Metropolitan Police Department could not be reached for comment early on Saturday.

DEPRESSION

The Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement the shooting is under investigation by its internal affairs division with assistance from the Secret Service, the Capitol Police and the FBI.

A Secret Service officer was struck by Carey's car outside the White House during the incident on Thursday, said U. S. Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan.

A Capitol Police officer was hurt when his car struck a barricade during the mid-afternoon chase, which ranged over about a mile and a half and lasted just a few minutes, officials said.

At the news conference in Brooklyn, Carey's other sister, Amy Carey-Jones, described to reporters the struggles her sibling had with post-partum depression.

"I can tell you that she was a law-abiding citizen, carefree and loving. She had a baby and she did suffer from post-partum depression with psychosis," Carey-Jones said, adding that her sister had been receiving medication and therapy.

The visibly emotional sisters held hands during the news conference. They had traveled to Washington earlier in the day to identify their sister to authorities with the use of photos, Carey-Jones said.

Investigators are focusing on whether Carey had mental problems that triggered her actions, said a U. S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Eric Sanders, an attorney for the Carey family and a former New York police officer, said the woman's relatives have not decided whether to take legal action.

Carey's daughter was unharmed when taken in by the District of Columbia Child and Family Services on Friday, said Mindy Good, a spokeswoman for the agency.

Carey was a licensed dental hygienist, according to records kept online by the state of Connecticut. She had been employed at a dental office but at the time of her death was no longer working there, said Carey-Jones, who declined to go into detail about her sister's work.

(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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