There are still few details about Sunday night’s horrific wreck in Union City, in which a city of South Fulton police cruiser crashed while chasing a stolen Mercedes Benz, killing three people and injuring three others in a work van that caught fire.
South Fulton officials expressed sympathy for the families of the dead but declined to release the name of the officer, who was also injured, or say whether he or she was on leave or believed to have acted appropriately in the chase. The wreck happened near the intersection of Ga. 138 and I-85 at about 10 p.m.
“The officer involved has been released from the hospital,” city spokeswoman Ashley Minter-Osanyinbi said Tuesday. “However, this incident is under investigation by Georgia State Patrol and there are no further details, comments or information available at this time.”
Also still unknown are the names of the people who were killed.
“It was such a horrific accident and involved the fire,” said Brain Reents, lead Fulton County medical examiner investigator. “They may have to be identified through DNA,” a process that can take months.
It isn’t yet clear what led to the pursuit or how fast the chase was.
Some agencies, such as Dunwoody and Gwinnett County police, won’t chase a car simply because it’s stolen. There must be another factor to lead officers to believe a driver presents more danger to the public than a chase does. Such factors could include fleeing a violent felony charge or driving in a particularly erratic fashion.
Innocent Georgians are killed every year during police pursuits of suspected criminals, which is why some departments have policies limiting when and why officers can pursue.
The Georgia State Patrol said its crash reconstruction unit officers are only investigating the accident itself. The GSP directed questions about the justification of the pursuit to South Fulton police, who did not immediately respond. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also submitted an open records request for the South Fulton Police Department’s policy on pursuits, which wasn’t immediately fulfilled Tuesday.
According to preliminary information from the state patrol, the officer was chasing the Mercedes Benz, which had several occupants, on Ga. 138 east near the intersection with I-85 in Union City.
“A white work van with six occupants was making a left turn onto Ga. 138 west from I-85 north and entered into the path of the patrol vehicle,” a statement from the state patrol said. “The patrol vehicle stuck the left side of the van, causing it to overturn onto its top and catch fire.”
Three people in the van died on the scene; three others were transported to Grady Memorial Hospital.
The Mercedes apparently got away.
The police cruiser also caught fire, but the officer escaped. The officer suffered a head wound and was taken to Grady.
The state patrol said it could not provide an update on the conditions of the people from the van.
“Our hearts go out to the family,” South Fulton Police Chief Keith Meadows told Channel 2 Action News after the crash. “Certainly when things like this happen, it’s a tragic incident.”