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Investigators Probe Fatal Chase, Police Policies

Posted December 3, 2007
Updated December 4, 2007

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— Relatives and community members had questions for the Franklinton Police Department after a high-speed chase Saturday ended in a head-on collision that killed three people.

Investigators reconstructed the chase along a blackened stretch of road in neighboring Granville County, and town leaders planned to hire an independent consultant, even as the police department began to take a look at the chase and its own policies on Monday.

"We're trying to put together a lot of unanswered questions right now .... We're not going to stop until we get some answers," Franklinton Police Chief Ray Gilliam said.

Franklinton Town Attorney Mitch Styers briefed the Town Council about the police chase and the crash behind closed doors for about an hour Monday night.

Afterward, town leaders said they planned to hire an independent consultant to review their policies and advise them on any changes that might be appropriate.

Franklinton Police Chase Probed

Experts said chases are always tough calls, because officers must weigh the dangers posed by the suspect and by a chase. Police consultant Jon Blum said investigators must consider a lot of factors to determine if this particular chase was justified.

"What were the facts known when they started? It's always the key – what were the reasons for the pursuit," he said.

Surveillance video from a gas station shows the chase began when Guy Christopher Ayscue, 38, of Henderson, drove a Pontiac through a red light on the wrong side of N.C. Highway 56. Officer Michael Dunlap flashed his lights and sirens, but Ayscue drove off and Dunlap pursued, police said.

Ayscue forced several cars off the road as the chase stretched across two counties and 13 miles. Officers were laying down stop sticks about a mile ahead of where Ayscue tried to pass another vehicle in a no-passing zone on U.S. Highway 15 north near Creedmoor in Granville County.

His vehicle crashed head-on into a 1999 Kia with Linsay Lunsford, 18, and her 9-year-old sister Maggie inside. All three died.

North Carolina does not have any state standard for police chases, so each department must make up its own. The Franklinton Police Department policy tells officers to consider traffic congestion, road conditions and the severity of the violation for which they are pursuing a person.

Dunlap initially attempted to pull over Ayscue for a traffic violation, but when Ayscue fled from the officer, he committed a felony, for which officers are allowed to pursue suspects, Gilliam said.

Speed will be an important fact while the Franklin Department considers whether or not Dunlap violated policy during the chase. Dunlap, who was hired in 2005, was placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation. He has had no prior personnel issues.

Troopers estimated the speed of impact at 90 mph. If Dunlap were chasing Ayscue at the same speed, it would be a violation of his department's policy.

The Franklinton Police Department bans high-speed chases – which it defines as any speed more than 20 mph over the speed limit. The speed limit on U.S. 15 is 55 mph.

One witness estimated that Dunlap was going at 75 mph while he drove about a quarter of a mile behind Ayscue, Styers said. Highway Patrol Sgt. R.P. Hargrove, who is leading the investigation into the crash, said Dunlap said he did not know how fast he was going.

An on-board camera in Dunlap's patrol car was not operational, police said.

On Sunday, police said they believed Dunlap followed proper procedure in the chase.

“As of now, we have not found anything in violation or infraction of violating the policy as it stands now," Gilliam said.

Investigators do not know why Ayscue was driving erratically. He had a series of drug and traffic convictions, including one DWI, in his past, and was set to appear in court on speeding charges in January.

Ayscue's parole for assault with a deadly weapon and robbery ended Sept. 27, and he had spent six of the past 10 years in jail or on parole.

Blum, who was not involved in the accident and subsequent investigation, said although hindsight is 20-20, he believes the chase became too dangerous to pursue.

"The sooner you can stop it from happening, that's the best way you can go," he said.

Blum said officers might need better guidelines, whether from their departments or the state.

"I think we need to take a look at other methods and policies for stopping a pursuit before they get started," he said.

Mary Ann Lunsford, the girls' mother, said police need to take a look at how the chase was handled. She also said "the whole thing needs to be revamped."

Families, Officer Grieve Deaths

Dunlap was shaken by what happened and was greatly affected by it, Styers said. The town has offered to meet with the Lunsford family to talk about the case as soon as it is ready.

“Words cannot express the sincere sadness each of us feels for the loss to the Lunsford family. ... these two innocents, these two sisters that meant everything to their family,” Franklinton Mayor Jenny Edwards said. “I want to express our sincere condolences to the family of Linsay and Maggie Lunsford.”

There were no plans for Dunlap to meet with the Lunsford family as of Monday night, Styers said. Earlier in the day, Mary Ann Lunsford said she wanted to talk to him.

The sisters were two of six children in their family. Linsay was studying at UNC-Greensboro to be a teacher. Maggie, a fourth-grader at Mount Energy Elementary School, had won a trophy at a karate tournament earlier Saturday.

Mary Ann Lunsford also asked for prayers and support as her family grieves.

"This leaves a very big hole, as you can imagine. And you never expect to bury your children," she said. "Just continue to hold us up in prayer, please."

Funeral arrangements have been made for Linsay and Maggie Lunsford. A visitation will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Gentry, Newell and Vaughn Funeral Home in Oxford. A funeral is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Mount Energy. The family will have a private burial Thursday.

Donations for the Lunsford family may be sent to:

Lunsford Family
c/o Stem United Methodist Church
P.O. Box 10
Stem, NC 27851

106 Comments

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  • jrmints23 Dec 6, 2007

    my bad stilly - apparently i'm blind, i'm glad you agree with me :)

  • K9Tucker.LoveMYcop Dec 4, 2007

    whatusay - if put yourself in the officer's place I am so sure you would have done a much better job so why don't you go through BLET and become one

  • bullockmb1958 Dec 4, 2007

    The punishment did'nt fit the crime,especially for those two sisters. If the cop did'nt violate policy, then it needs changing!!! GOD BLESS THOSE GIRLS AND FAMILY

  • elcid89 Dec 4, 2007

    "The use of the PIT is a use of force, thereby being condoned by the Supreme Court. Don't read it like a defense ferret (unless you are one)."

    PIT does not refer to slamming into or pushing a vehicle from the rear. By definition, it refers to nudging the corner of the vehicle in such a way as to cause the driver to lose control.

    Beyond that, as I told you, the sole aspect of the case that saved Scott's hindparts was the videotape itself. Officers choosing to utilize such tactics must be prepared to justify having done so when the usage results in drastic consequences or loss of life and/or function. Scott v. Harris establishes in concrete fashion that the 4th Amendment rights of the chased must be balanced against the danger to the public he presents in making the determination of tactics.

    So, in essence, if you choose to use these tactics, I hope you have a camera to back the choice up if it ends up going badly.

  • elle89 Dec 4, 2007

    to wjcspanteach, your comment is right on.
    i know the family personally. they are probably some one of the sweetest families i know. both of the girls were so smart and talented. i loved them both. they will be truely missed. to Mary Ann Lunsford, i am so sorry you are having to go thru this trerrible tradegy,i know your faith is very strong. i have always looked at her as an inspiration! god bless all of the Lunsford family.

  • whatusay Dec 4, 2007

    k9TUCKER.."The cop was trying to get the idiot off the highway". Well, he succeeded.

  • K9Tucker.LoveMYcop Dec 4, 2007

    No beachbum1 I wasn't there and I am saddened that these two girls lost their life. However, your "opinion" that the cop wasn't using his brain is totally out of line. You have no idea of what goes on in an officers mind when they are giving chase and I can assure you without a doubt this officer will suffer with I wish I.....or what could I have.......

  • beachbum1 Dec 4, 2007

    k9TUCKER...no and I 'm guessing you weren't either. We all have our own opinions, that what this is for. No one is 100% or 100% wrong. God bless the family

  • ScreenNameNotInUse Dec 4, 2007

    Again, just in case anyone with common sense and authority in this case reads these words...

    90 MPH on NC Highway 15 is ridiculous.Did someone say the police should not be blamed in this case because they were just doing their job? On the contrary, on every highway from 39 in Vance county on down through 56, 15, 50 - all those roads from the Va line south to Wake Forest and from Durham east to Louisburg and Franklinton need to be by default considered NO CHASE ZONES. Those roads only go to so many places. Get a description of the vehicle and then post troopers and deputies on all major outlying roads. With enough coverage the guy will resurface in a place where a pursuit is appropriate and where he can be apprehended quickly, and even forcefully if necessary. The police know those backroads, but they obviously do not know their jobs. To force a chase that result in a driver racing at 90 MPH falls within the realm of neglegence.

  • Lightfoot3 Dec 4, 2007

    I see TWO cars going through the intersection of the video of the initial infraction. People need to quit hyping up “WRONG WAY” on the criminal. It appears he was going around another car, not just wantonly driving in the wrong lane. The cop still had just cause to initiate a pursuit, so there’s no need to hype it up.


    However, during that 13 mile, two county chase, with the bad guy forcing cars off the road, the cop SHOULD have made a choice to stop chasing. The spike strips were out ahead, he could continue along at a normal speed, without lights and siren. The chase had become MUCH too dangerous for the public. The outcome might have been the same, but we KNOW him continuing with the chase was only making it worse.

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