Police-chase fatalities: Deaths of woman, 2 grandkids ‘devastating’

Staff writer Lauren Foreman contributed to this report.

She only had two grandchildren, but that was enough for Dorothy Smith Wright.

“They were my auntie’s heart,” Wright’s niece said Monday.

On Sunday, Wright and the children wanted only to go to church. But a man accused of stealing a Chevrolet Suburban wanted to get away, away from College Park police who chased him more than 10 miles in southwest Atlanta. In a horrific twist of fate, the grandmother and her children drove into the path of the high-speed police chase.

Investigators initially believed only Wright and her 12-year-old grandson had died. Hours later, Wright's 6-year-old granddaughter was also found dead. She had been ejected from the car, but it was not known late Monday whether she died instantly.

Minutes after the family left home, the Suburban slammed into Wright’s 1995 Buick LeSabre. The impact was so strong, the Buick flipped, according to police. Wright and Cameron Costner were both found dead in the wreckage, according to police. Investigators later found Cameron’s sister, 6-year-old Layla Partridge, in shrubbery, where she landed after being ejected from the Buick.

The man accused of stealing a black Suburban from a Westin hotel near the Atlanta airport and refusing to stop for police ignored a stop sign at South Gordon Street and Rogers Avenue. The suspect, whose name has not yet been released, was able to run from the wreckage after hitting the Buick and remained on the run Monday night.

Autopsies were being conducted on Wright and the two children, the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office said late Monday.

“It was just senseless,” LaTaucha Harris said of the police chase. “It’s just a car.”

Harris is Wright’s niece and Cameron’s and Layla’s cousin. The family has started the process of planning one funeral for all three.

Only one word describes the pain, Harris said: “Devastating.”

On the weekends, Wright would insist that her only daughter, Joi Partridge, bring her family from Fayetteville to her southwest Atlanta home to spend the night. And on Sunday mornings, the family would go to church together, Harris said. This Sunday, the children’s mother had to work, so Wright drove them when they left shortly after 9 a.m.

Cameron, a history buff, loved to sing, Harris said. Layla’s hobby was karate, and she had already earned a green belt. She had her eye on a black belt, and her family believed she had the determination to get it one day.

If Cameron was singing, his sister and grandmother probably joined in, too, Harris said.

“I just imagine what they would be singing all together,” she said.

A Georgia state trooper was sent to tell Joi Partridge that her mother and son were killed, Harris said. Partridge asked about her daughter. Where was Layla? Was she also killed?

Investigators had not seen a young girl in the wreckage, so they returned to the crash site to continue the search, the State Patrol said Monday. Sunday night, nearly 12 hours after the crash, Layla was found not far from the crash site, hidden underneath shrubbery, investigators said.

On Monday, College Park police Chief Keith Meadows asked the Fulton district attorney’s office to look into whether his officers followed the department’s chase policy, a 17-page detailed guide. Meadows told Channel 2 Action News that dashcam video was released to the State Patrol and DA’s office.

The officers involved in the chase, Officer Casey Smith, Sgt. Joshua Emory and Lt. Nicholas Duffey, are on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. All three officers recently completed training in pursuits, according to their files from the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council. None has been previously investigated or sanctioned.

“Of course we’re angry,” Harris said. “We’re just not focusing on that yet.”

Instead, the family found some comfort in knowing that Wright and her grandchildren, who loved being together, also died together.

“We know where they are,” Harris said.