Her mother, Dorothy Smith Wright, 75.
Her son, Cameron Costner, 12.
Her daughter, Layla Partridge, 6.
In one instant — the destructive, jarring culmination of an ill-fated Sunday morning police chase — Joi Partridge lost them all. They were innocent, caught in the worst possible place at the worst possible time.
“Why did this have to happen?” Partridge said Tuesday, surrounded by family members in the 41st floor conference room of a downtown Atlanta attorney’s office. “It’s just a big ‘why?’ My mom, my kids, up Sunday morning going to church.”
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Partridge and her family — husband, ex-husband, his wife, a cousin — addressed the media as a group Tuesday, hoping to publicly address the event that shattered their lives a single time and move on. But not before asking for answers — and an independent investigation.
“We want facts,” Douglas Partridge, wife of Joi and father to Layla, said.
Shortly after 9 a.m. Sunday, College Park police responded to a stolen vehicle call at the Westin Atlanta Airport. The suspect and the Chevrolet Suburban were still there, but fled when officers arrived. Few details have been released about the actual chase, but authorities have said officers pursued the Suburban for about 10 miles and into southwest Atlanta.
Officers temporarily lost contact with the stolen vehicle on a residential street near the historic Westview Cemetery. The found it again at the intersection of Rogers Avenue and South Gordon Street — where the SUV had sped through a stop sign and plowed into the aging Buick LeSabre carrying Wright, Cameron and Layla. The children were ejected.
Authorities did not know Layla had been in the car until hours later, when they told Partridge what happened and she asked about her daughter. The girl’s body was later found a short distance from the crash scene, obscured by shrubbery.
The driver of the Suburban got away and, as of Tuesday afternoon, remained at large.
Questions loom, meanwhile, about the actions of the three College Park officers involved in the pursuit, and if there should have been a chase at all. The department’s policy allows for chases if a “forcible felony” has occurred, but authorities have not commented on the nature of the original vehicle theft.
The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office has been asked to review the actions of the officers, previously identified as Officer Casey Smith, Sgt. Joshua Emory and Lt. Nicholas Duffy. All three recently completed training in pursuits and have not previously been investigated or sanctioned, according to their files from the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.
They are currently on paid administrative leave.
“For me,” said Floyd Costner, ex-husband of Joi Partridge and father of Cameron, “three lives are not worth the price of an SUV, not worth the price of a Suburban.”
Several times during Tuesday’s press conference, the family suggested the stolen SUV likely had GPS or OnStar or some other way police could have tracked it without a chase.
Joi Partridge said she was at work Sunday morning when she got the first call, a vague message from Atlanta police.
She brushed it off as a wrong number, left work and went to her mother’s house — only about a mile from the crash scene. No one was home, so she waited. There was a special program after church, she thought, and maybe her mom had changed her mind and decided to go.
The lunch she’d brought to share with everyone grew cold.
Partridge got another call, someone saying the state patrol had been in her driveway. She called a church friend, who said her mother had never made it there. Then another message, a call returned to the state patrol, and a trooper on the way. Doug Partridge arrived “two minutes” before authorities shared the unthinkable — Cameron and his grandmother were dead.
“I said, ‘Well, where is my baby?’” Doug Partridge said Tuesday. “‘Where’s Layla?’”
Authorities didn’t know the girl had been in the car. They found her body about 90 minutes later, some 11 hours after the crash.
Joi Partridge hesitated Tuesday when asked if she blamed police for not finding her daughter sooner. She said she and the rest of the family just want answers about every aspect of the chase and crash.
She also had a message for the suspect who set it all in motion.
“I just want them to know that they wiped my whole bloodline from me,” Partridge said. “They wiped my mom, and my only two kids. I can’t see them graduate, I can’t see them be married, I can’t see them have kids, I can’t be a grandmother. And it’s just overwhelming.
“I mean, I have nothing. Nothing else. It’s just a lot of lonely nights and a lot of lonely mornings.”
»A GoFundMe page has been established for the family. Donations can be made here.