Montgomery County Sheriff Ladson O’Connor was killed early Tuesday when he crashed while pursuing an armed suspect, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said.
The suspect later surrendered after exchanging gunfire with authorities.
GBI spokeswoman Sherry Lang said the incident began around midnight in Toombs County, a rural community about three hours southeast of Atlanta. Deputies there were assisting a motorist when the driver of another vehicle — believed to be 35-year-old Jim Edward Lowery — “attempted to leave the area” after spotting them, Lang said.
That piqued the deputies’ interest and they attempted to initiate a traffic stop. Lowery fled, authorities said, and O’Connor joined in the chase when it continued on Ga. 56 into nearby Montgomery County.
“During the pursuit, Sheriff O’Connor lost control of his vehicle, wrecked and was dead on the scene,” Lang said.
What may have led O’Connor to lose control was unclear, though Lang said either Lowery or 36-year-old passenger Nicole Dixie Best fired shots at officers during the chase. An autopsy was being performed at the GBI’s crime lab in Savannah, Lang said.
The chase came to an end near the town of Uvalda, where state troopers had placed “stop sticks” on the road, Lang said. Lowery crashed his vehicle and managed to escape — for a few hours, at least.
At about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Georgia State Patrol SWAT team members located Lowery in McNatt Falls, a town in Montgomery County. Lowery surrendered after an exchange of gunfire.
“Lowery had sustained an injury to his leg but it is unknown at this time if the injury is a result of the shooting or if it occurred while he was on the run from law enforcement,” Lang said.
Lowery was arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault on a police officer and one count of fleeing and attempting to elude a police officer. Best, the passenger in his vehicle, was also detained and “is being held in the Montgomery County jail while warrants are being obtained for her arrest,” Lang said.
It was unclear what charges Best will face.
The GBI is investigating both the chase and the officer-involved shooting that occurred during Lowery’s apprehension, Lang said.
O’Connor, 42, had served as the sheriff of Montgomery County since January 2013. He leaves behind a wife and four children.
Messages left with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday were not immediately returned. Several metro Atlanta agencies took to social media Tuesday to express their condolences.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Montgomery County Sheriff Ladson O’Connor and with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office,” the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Facebook.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.