Dashcam video shows fatal pursuit in Upstate
07/19/2013 11:49 PM
07/20/2013 12:19 AM
View video at bottom of story
A dash cam video shows a Highway Patrol trooper pursued a Lexus SUV in Greenville County at speeds that reached 85 mph just after midnight in June before the SUV veered onto a railroad bridge, crashed through a railing and fell onto railroad tracks below.
The SUV’s driver was killed and two passengers were injured.
The video was released in response to a request by GreenvilleOnline.com under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
The video shows the Highway Patrol trooper in pursuit, with blue lights flashing and the siren audible. The trooper, who isn’t identified, repeats a description of the Lexus and its license plate number to dispatchers and he’s heard ticking off the speeds that accelerate to 70, 80 then 85 mph.
Traffic can be seen passing in the other direction on the two-lane road.
At one point, the driver of the Lexus activates his left-turn signal.
“We’re traveling 85 miles an hour,” the trooper told dispatchers. The video then shows the Lexus veering left and crashing through a wooden guard rail. On the video, the vehicle disappears from view.
The trooper immediately calls for help and can be seen, with a flashlight, running to the bridge’s edge and peering down toward the railroad tracks.
Authorities identified the driver as Josiah Terry, 22, of Easley. The extent of the passengers’ injuries wasn’t known.
The Highway Patrol previously wouldn’t discuss the speeds reached. A spokesman referred questions about the accident investigation to Greenville County officials.
The Department of Public Safety released its nine-page vehicle and foot-pursuit policy in response to an FOI request by GreenvilleOnline.com, but officials Friday wouldn’t discuss details of last month’s pursuit.
“The S.C. Department of Public Safety has not completed its final review of the incident and we feel it’s not appropriate to comment on it at this time,” a department spokesman said in an email.
A vehicle pursuit is justified “only when the necessity of the apprehension of a suspect outweighs the risks created by the pursuit,” the department’s policy says.
A decision rests with the primary pursuit officer, according to the policy.
That officer also evaluates and determines whether to continue a pursuit “unless otherwise instructed by the pursuit supervisor to terminate the pursuit,” the policy says.
It says the officer must consider various circumstances and conditions before initiating a pursuit, including the seriousness of the offense leading to the pursuit and weather and road conditions.
The officer also must consider the presence of vehicular and pedestrian traffic and any passengers in the fleeing vehicle, the policy says.
It calls for the officer immediately to notify the appropriate communication center of the pursuit and relay the description and license information of the fleeing vehicle.
The pursuit last month began in Pickens just after midnight June 28 and ended in Greenville County near State 124 and Page Drive, authorities said. Terry wasn’t wearing a seat belt, authorities said.
Deputy Jonathan Smith, spokesman for the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, said his department was investigating as required by state law any time the Highway Patrol is involved in a pursuit resulting in an accident.
Jeff Fowler, a deputy Greenville County coroner, said the SUV went off the bridge and dropped to the railroad tracks.
Highway Patrol Lance Cpl. Bill Rhyne said the pursuit began about 12:08 a.m. and ended about a minute later. A trooper was conducting a stationary radar check on State 124 in Pickens County when he observed a speeding Lexus SUV, Rhyne said.
The trooper attempted to pull over the vehicle, but the driver failed to stop and the pursuit ensued, Rhyne said.
The pursuit continued along State 124 and the driver made a left turn onto Page Drive, Rhyne said. At that point, the driver lost control and the Lexus crashed, Rhyne said.
The part-owner of a recycling business across the street from the scene said a train had passed under the railroad bridge “seconds before” the mishap.
Kamal Desor, who was working late and arrived at the scene shortly after the accident, estimated the SUV fell 40 feet to the railroad tracks.
Members of the sheriff’s reconstruction team have been assembling evidence needed for the investigation, said Smith, the sheriff’s spokesman.
A study for the National Institute of Justice showed high-speed vehicle pursuits were possibly the most dangerous of all ordinary police activities.
In South Carolina in 1997, Amy Clark was killed in York County when her vehicle was struck head-on by a van fleeing during a high-speed police pursuit involving state troopers, court records show.
Clark’s father brought a wrongful-death suit against the state Department of Public Safety and the other motorist. He alleged the department’s employees failed to properly supervise the pursuit and terminate it before the fatal accident, court records show.
Troopers traveled at speeds of 80 and 85 mph in the attempt to catch the other motorist, the records show.
A jury returned a $3.75 million verdict for Clark against both the department and the other motorist, court records show. The jury concluded the other motorist was 80 percent at fault and the department 20 percent, according to court records.
The trial court reduced the department’s liability to $250,000, the allowable amount under the Tort Claims Act at the time of the verdict, court records show.
The department raised several issues on an unsuccessful appeal to the state Supreme Court. The department argued there was no evidence to support a verdict that the lead trooper in the pursuit was “grossly negligent,” according to court records.
A note the jury submitted regarding its verdict said the Department of Public Safety’s vehicle and foot-pursuit policy dictated supervision of all pursuits, according to court records. During the pursuit in the Clark case, no supervisors were present or notified until after the pursuit ended, according to court records.
The other motorist pleaded guilty to several charges, including DUI felony causing death, failure to stop for a blue light resulting in death and possession of a stolen vehicle, court records show. It was stipulated at trial that he registered .244 on a blood-alcohol test and tested positive for marijuana and cocaine, court records show.
A records check with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division showed Terry had been arrested on several misdemeanor or felony charges, including possession of drugs, possession of hypodermic needles and syringes, driving under suspension and unlawful carrying of a weapon.
In February 2012, he was charged with violation of probation, the records show.
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