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Reports offer new details about crashes that followed state police officer chases

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Reports offer new details about crashes that followed state police officer chases

FILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES: A Georgia State Patrol vehicle. Photo obtained via https://dps.georgia.gov

A Georgia State Patrol vehicle. Photo obtained via https://dps.georgia.gov

This story has been updated. 

State police officers were involved in two chases in January that ended with serious accidents, one of them fatal.

In response to a records request from Decaturish, the Georgia Department of Public Safety released incident reports that shed new light on why the chases occurred.

Residents of Kirkwood had questions about the chase that resulted in the death of Decatur mom Ashley Tewell. The accident occurred after the suspect officers were chasing hit her car head-on while she was traveling on Memorial Drive with her daughter, who was injured. The suspect died when his pickup truck flipped over and burst into flames.

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A few days later, on Jan. 30, a chase along Moreland Avenue involving state police officers left a seven-year-old girl severely injured after she was ejected from a vehicle driven by a different suspect.

The Georgia Department of Public Safety’s reports provide justification for the chases, but a Decaturish review of chase policies in other area police departments shows that the Department of Public Safety guidelines give state officers wider latitude to initiate a chase.

According to the initial report about the Jan. 27 chase that resulted in Tewell’s death, the driver of the pickup Quincey Gamar Norman, was in a “suspicious vehicle.” The full report gives more detail about the circumstances that aroused officers’ suspicion. A Capitol Police officer said that around noon on Jan. 27, he was patrolling the perimeter of the state capitol when he saw a white pickup truck with a trailer attached in front of Atlanta City Hall on Mitchell Street.

“My attention was drawn to the truck due to someone jumping up and down on the top of the truck’s roof and the truck was constantly honking its horn,” the officer wrote.

He noted, “The driver was dancing, in such a manner it was hard to believe he was able to operate and control his vehicle and continuously activating his horn.” According to another officer the suspect, later identified as Norman, was also wearing a “black cowboy hat.”

The capitol police officer pulled behind the truck and noticed that there weren’t any license plates on the trailer or the truck.

“As we pulled to the Capitol Square crosswalk, I noticed that there were multiple pedestrians present near the entry to the crosswalk, and the truck driver continuously pulsated his horn, as an attempt to force his way through the crosswalk; however, no one was in the crosswalk,” the officer wrote. “The driver stopped for the crosswalk and appeared to try to exit his truck through the driver’s side window. The driver then re-positioned himself and continued east as a safety officer was walking towards us, from the loading zone, giving a command for traffic to stop.”

The officer believed the driver was showing “signs of impairment” and activated the lights on his car.

“The driver continued to dance wildly in his truck as well as continued to pulsate his horn, failing to stop for my vehicle,” the officer wrote. “I notified our communications center as to my stop and advised the center that the driver was not stopping. I also activated both my siren and air horn in an attempt to obtain the driver’s attention.”

The truck was at a red light and would not pull over. Another officer approached the passenger side of the vehicle on foot and tried to get the driver’s attention. The second officer advised the Capitol Police Officer that the suspect was probably going to flee. Other officers were notified. The light turned green and the truck accelerated, the report says.

The truck turned onto Capitol Avenue. The officer said “traffic was very light” and the truck ran a red light on Capitol Avenue at Pollard Avenue, nearly hitting another vehicle. Then the truck turned onto I-20 eastbound.

“The truck entered the interstate, continuing to flee. I requested to communications that they have a trooper en route,” the officer wrote. “The truck maintained travel mostly between the right most lanes of the interstate; at one point the truck moved to the left side of the interstate. I took a position to the left rear of the truck, maintaining a distance of approximately 75 feet. Each time the truck approached an exit ramp, the truck would attempt to exit and then swerve back onto the interstate.”

The truck moved from lane to lane, staying within the right side of the road, the report says. The traffic was “light to medium.”

“The truck took the exit to Glenwood Connector; however, it merged onto the entrance ramp to Interstate 20
east from Boulevard,” the officer wrote. “The truck continued east from this point. Shortly after passing this point, I noticed that a marked [Department of Public Safety Motor Carrier Compliance Division] vehicle was standing by on the south shoulder. As we passed him, I noticed that he was engaging in the pursuit. As the MCCD unit caught up, I released the primary position to him, staying secondary in the pursuit. The truck continued to flee and exited onto Maynard Terrace.”

The truck turned northbound onto Maynard Terrace, cutting through an Exxon Gas Station as it approached Memorial Drive. The truck turned onto Memorial headed east traveling at speeds in excess of 85 miles per hour. The Capitol Police Officer saw another Georgia State Patrol Officer approaching from behind.

“Traffic was backed up at the intersection and the right turn lane was beginning to open,” the officer wrote. “To avoid obstructing the trooper’s ability to engage in the pursuit, I continued north on Maynard Terrace and then turned east on Memorial Drive.”

The Capitol Police Officer said in the report this allowed him to hold up traffic so the other officers could continue chasing the vehicle. Another Capitol Police Officer described what led to the crash.

“The white truck continued eastbound on Memorial Drive until it crossed the center line and struck a gray Lexus head-on just east of Douglas Street,” the officer wrote. Tewell was driving the Lexus. The suspect also struck another vehicle before overturning.

Officers approached the overturned vehicle with guns pointed at the suspect.

“Once I arrived at the collision, I got out of my vehicle and had the subject at gunpoint and was giving him verbal commands to put his hands up and exit the overturned vehicle,” the Motor Compliance Division Officer wrote.

The suspect did not get out of the truck.

“Seconds after giving him commands, I could see fuel and fire expanding around the truck,” the officer wrote. “I then ran to my vehicle to grab my fire extinguisher and when I returned to the subject’s overturned truck, it was completely engulfed in flames.”

The officer said he “could hear loud exploding coming from the subject’s vehicle.” He got in his car to move further away. Norman died in the burning truck.

In the Jan. 30 incident, a trooper was patrolling I-20 east of Moreland Avenue around 7:20 a.m. and checking vehicle speeds. He noted an Audi, driven by Kadeem D’Anto Fletcher, traveling 81 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone. The trooper attempted to pull the Audi over, and the vehicle slowed down and changed lanes before accelerating.

“The vehicle fled east on I-20 at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour,” the trooper wrote. “While the vehicle was fleeing, it showed a total disregard for the safety of the motoring public. The vehicle was weaving in and out of traffic narrowly missing other vehicles.”

The trooper attempted to use his vehicle in a precision immobilization technique, known as a PIT maneuver, to stop the Audi. He positioned his car on the passenger side of the fleeing vehicle.

“While setting up [for the PIT maneuver] the vehicle abruptly changed lanes to the right, narrowly missing my patrol car,” the trooper wrote. “Had I not taken an evasive action to avoid the vehicle, it would have struck my patrol car.”

The Audi took an exit ramp onto Gresham Road. The trooper was unable to take the ramp and pulled over to the shoulder of the road.

“Once stopped, I observed a large cloud of smoke emit from the top of the ramp,” the trooper wrote. “I advised communications I believed the vehicle had crashed. I then backed down the shoulder of the roadway and went up the exit ramp.”

As the trooper got to the top of the ramp, he saw the Audi had struck a large sign in the parking lot of a Texaco at Gresham Road. The driver fled on foot into the woods behind the building. The trooper pulled his patrol car to the east of the station and looked into the wooded area. The trooper then walked into the front of the Texaco parking lot and saw a small child, a seven-year-old girl, who had been ejected from the vehicle, on the ground and bleeding.

The trooper began tending to the child, who told the officer her “poppa” was driving the vehicle. The girl was transported to the hospital and officers looked for Fletcher, who later turned himself in and faces several charges related to the incident.

Troopers met with the little girl and her mother at the hospital. According to the report, the mother told officers she allowed the suspect to drive the vehicle knowing he did not have a valid license “because they live together.” She told the trooper her daughter had “facial fractures” and internal bruising, as well as a “large laceration on her head,” but said she was recovering.

Chase polices reviewed by Decaturish show that other departments are more conservative when it comes to initiating chase, while state police officers have wider latitude.

The Atlanta, Decatur, Avondale Estates and DeKalb County Police Departments all restrict chases to incidents where the officer reasonably believes the suspect committed a dangerous crime or is a danger to others. The Georgia Department of Public Safety’s chase policy doesn’t include language regarding specific crimes or threats that might justify a high-speed chase.

A Georgia State Patrol spokesperson defended the department’s policy, telling Decaturish, “No policy can cover every condition or pursuit they will encounter, thus they are given the latitude outlined in the policy. Traffic stops can and do lead to the arrest of wanted persons on outstanding warrants (felony and misdemeanor), locating missing persons (kidnap victims, abducted children) and the recovery of stolen vehicles.”

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