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Suspect Dies After I-40 Chase Ends With Gunshots

Posted May 22, 2007
Updated May 23, 2007

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— A Duplin County robbery suspect who had led authorities on a 70-mile, multi-county car chase on Interstate 40 died at WakeMed on Tuesday, hours after four state troopers and a Wake County sheriff's deputy shot him as he emerged from his car with a weapon, officials said.

Their bullets brought down Stephen Ryan Gibson, 23, of 1410 Governors Court in Raleigh, on the side of the highway near mile marker 301, where he had run off the road after officers used "stop sticks" to disable his car.

Trooper P. E. Holmes, First Sgt. J. D. Henderson, Trooper D. C. Pate, Trooper L. B. Lovick and Deputy Robert S. Cook, were placed on administrative duty while the State Bureau of Investigation looked into what happened  before and during the middday incident that shut down half of the interstate for a time.

Gibson died several hours after an ambulance rushed him to the hospital's trauma unit.

Gibson, who lived in a development owned by his father, was described by neighbors as a loner who was kind and friendly. He had no previous criminal record beyond traffic violations.

Neighbors told WRAL Gibson had recently obtained a gun permit and bought a gun legally.

Officials said the troopers and deputy opened fire after they saw Gibson emerge from a car window, his torso in the open and what they believed was a weapon in his hand.

"The subject kept going from the front seat to the back seat several times, and then his upper torso came out the passenger side and a weapon was displayed and that's when the shots were fired," Highway Patrol First Sgt. Steve Greene said at the scene shortly after the shooting.

Authorities had deployed "stop sticks," devices that  damage tires when a vehicle drives over them, and the car slowed, troopers said. Witnesses said the car crossed four lanes of the highway and ran off onto the shoulder.

"He came straight over from the fast lane, straight over to the ditch, and I said, 'Oh my God,' and that's when we saw the police cars coming on both sides, the Inner Belt and the Outer Belt," said Yvonne Washington.

"I was coming off the Inner Beltline and he was coming on the on ramp, straight across, and the police were coming behind him and (he) went right into the ditch," Javaughn Washington said.

Troopers also had deployed stop sticks at the 312 and 308 mile markers without success, they said

The windshield of the vehicle showed damage from officers' bullets, and its door stood ajar.

Duplin County Sheriff Blake Wallace said four deputies began chasing the car following an armed robbery about 10:30 a.m. at a BP station in Magnolia. Gibson had stolen cigarettes and money from the store and ordered a clerk to unlock the electronic controls of a gas pump, authorities said. The clerk then called deputies, who sped to the station while Gibson pumped gas.

Gibson's car reached as much as 130 mph and was weaving in and out of traffic, Wallace said. Deputies dropped back and radioed ahead to troopers, who took up the chase when it went into Sampson County, he said. Highway Patrol policy specifies how troopers should handle chases, including ones in which other agencies ask for their help.

The chase went through Sampson and Johnston counties before coming into Wake County at about 11 a.m.

After the stop sticks deflated its tires, Gibson’s car went out of control and hit the rear of a car in which two women were traveling. They were unhurt, but their car spun around and was hit by a third car. Neither of the two people in that car were injured either, according to an account issued by the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.

"Anytime someone is shot, it's not easy for us because we know they have a family. But, you know we are sworn to protect and serve, and that's what we will continue to do," Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said.

The aftermath of the incident brought traffic to a standstill westbound and interfered with eastbound traffic as well. It occurred in the area where I-40 and I-440 come together.

Raleigh police and state DOT traffic trucks set up detours for westbound traffic as officers investigated. They reopened three of the five westbound lanes by 5 p.m., but then shut down all lanes again while they removed the suspect's car from the right shoulder. All lanes have since re-opened to traffic.

Police were sending traffic off the pavement and onto the median to turn around as they worked to relieve a backup that occurred when the incident forced drivers to stop.

Raleigh police initially had routed westbound traffic onto the Outer Loop of the Beltline. Traffic on the Inner Loop of the Beltline, which runs with I-40 westbound at that point, was diverted to I-40 eastbound.