For the second time in four days, innocent metro Atlantans were killed in a crash tied to a police chase. Sunday morning, a child was one of the two left dead.
Police and the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office are investigating, respectively, the latest tragedy and the actions of the officers involved. A suspect believed to be driving a stolen SUV plowed into a car, killing the car’s two occupants, a 76-year-old woman and a boy of about 12, on a residential street in southwest Atlanta.
The suspect escaped, apparently while College Park officers tried to help the victims. The suspect was believed to remain at large Sunday evening.
The SUV had led College Park police on a more than 10-mile chase after officers responded to a call of a crime in progress involving a stolen vehicle near the Westin Atlanta Airport hotel, according to authorities.
College Park police chief Keith Meadows said he didn’t know if it was a carjacking or involved force.
“Our policy is to chase forcible felonies,” Meadows said. He added that he “won’t speculate on whether the officers were in or out of policy.”
The DA’s office has been asked to review the police actions, the chief said.
“We value life, and we want to do what we can to protect it,” Meadows said.
The chase led College Park officers into the city of Atlanta, with both the Georgia State Patrol and Atlanta police notified, according to authorities.
Witnesses in the neighborhood where it ended, near the historic Westview Cemetery, said the SUV flew past a stop sign on Rogers Avenue at a high rate of speed. It struck a Buick carrying the woman and the boy, according to police. The boy was thrown from the car, which had been traveling on South Gordon Street. He landed in the street.
Witnesses said both the SUV and the police were traveling at high rates of speed prior to the crash.
Michael Montgomery of Buford was raking his cousin’s front yard nearby when he said the driver of the SUV came by “wide open.” The driver cut through the yard of Montgomery’s godmother, with police in pursuit, he said.
Then the SUV looped back on side streets before crashing a few houses away from where Montgomery stood.
Montgomery said he could see an officer briefly hesitate before going to check on the victim rather than first grabbing the suspect. “Which I can understand,” Montgomery said.
“Less than 30 seconds later he was up at the (suspect’s) car and the guy was gone,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery, who said he saw dead bodies while serving in the military, said he wept at the sight of the boy laying in the street. “It’s real sad to shatter a Sunday morning, two people probably on their way to church.”
Dwyane Phillips said he saw the accident as it unfolded.
The pursuing police car was going fast, but still slower than the SUV, Phillips said. “They should have backed off.”
On Thursday night, a Norcross couple were killed after their vehicle was hit by a suspect being pursued by Johns Creek police into Gwinnett County on Peachtree Parkway. An officer had attempted to pull over the suspect’s white Ford Crown Victoria because it resembled a police car and appeared suspicious, according to police. That sparked a four-mile chase with speeds that reached above 80 miles per hour.
The driver, 47-year-old Tennessee resident Larry Thomas, faces charges of vehicular homicide, driving under the influence, trafficking in methamphetamine and possession of other drugs. His son, Jesse Thomas, a passenger, faces drug and weapons charges.
Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina professor of criminology, has researched police chases for years.
“The trend is to make them more restricted because they are so dangerous,” he said.
What is known at the time about the magnitude of the crime should be balanced against the risk to the public based on the particulars of a potential pursuit, Alpert said. That’s why some police changed their policy to only allow chases in the case of violent crimes.
The federal government estimates that police vehicle pursuits result in an average of a death a day nationwide, but that’s likely a deep underestimation, according to Alpert.