One of a state trooper’s first stops Tuesday morning turned into a high speed chase downtown and led to the first shootout of his career.
Two S.C. Highway Patrol troopers were involved in a shootout about 8:15 a.m. in the parking lot of a Wells Fargo bank, on a highly visible corner in Five Points, after a man led them on a chase through downtown Columbia traffic, said state Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Sherri Iacobelli. The State Law Enforcement Division is investigating.
According to reports, Trooper S.M. Groubert had just started his 12-hour shift when he stopped a Hyundai Tiburon that passed him on Interstate 20, allegedly driving at a high rate of speed. When he approached the driver, Groubert, a 7-year veteran with the force, suspected the man might be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The car took off mid-stop, and Groubert pursued, following the car onto Interstate 77.
A second trooper, Jack Tompkins IV, joined the interstate chase at the Forest Drive ramp, Iacobelli said. The two followed the car as it got off the interstate, though it wasn’t known Tuesday which exit the suspect took. The driver then headed toward Five Points, turning into the bank parking lot along Saluda Avenue and parking near the bank’s entrance.
Then, the troopers say, the man got out of his car and started shooting at them. They fired back, injuring the suspect. The number of shots fired hasn’t been released, but several bullet casings were visible at the scene later that morning.
Neither of the troopers was injured, and both will be placed on administrative duty while SLED investigates. The troopers had never been involved in shootings before Tuesday, Iacobelli said.
The suspect, whose name hasn’t been released, was transported from the scene in an ambulance.
Jimmy Bennett was standing on the sidewalk at Harden Street and Saluda Avenue when he saw the Hyundai zooming down the road, followed closely by two Highway Patrol cars. The Hyundai whipped onto Saluda Avenue and maneuvered into the parking lot to avoid two bystanders’ cars stopped at a light. Then, he said, he heard least 10 gunshots.
“I heard, ‘Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop,” he said. “It ain’t no firecrackers.”
The bank, which was closed and unoccupied during the shootout, remained closed most of Tuesday, Wells Fargo spokesman Josh Dunn said. It was not known when it would reopen, though Dunn said some repairs were being made to the building.