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UNC student told 911 dispatcher he's drunk, had gun

Posted August 26, 2009
Updated October 8, 2009

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— A college student who was shot and killed during a weekend traffic stop told a 911 dispatcher shortly before the shooting that he was drunk, had a gun with him and needed help.

Archdale Officer Jeremy Paul Flinchum shot Courtland Benjamin Smith, 21, of Houston, shortly before 5 a.m. Sunday off southbound Interstate 85 in Randolph County, authorities said.

Smith was a junior majoring in biology at the University of North Carolina and was president of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity on the Chapel Hill campus.

Archdale Police Chief Darrell Gibbs said Flinchum was dispatched because a caller to 911 was threatening to commit suicide. Flinchum tried to pull over a gray Toyota 4Runner on the highway but wound up following the vehicle until it stopped near Exit 108, authorities said. A second officer arrived on the scene before the shooting, Gibbs said.

Guilford Metro 911 released a recording of the 17-minute call Wednesday. After initially refusing to identify himself, the caller says his name is "Courtland" and tells the dispatcher he's from Houston.

"I'm driving drunk, and I was trying to figure out if anyone could drive with me," he told the dispatcher.

The caller said he was driving at 95 mph on Interstate 40 and was headed to Asheville to pick up Interstate 26. For much of the call, he's rattling off mile markers that indicate he veered off onto I-85 south when the two highways split in Greensboro.

"I'm trying to kill myself on I-40," he said. "I've got a 9-mm pistol with me. ... It's in kind of like my back pocket. I'm thinking about putting it in the passenger seat."

The dispatcher repeatedly asked him to slow down and pull over so officers could locate him. At various times during the call, he fluctuated between wondering why no police were stopping him and refusing to pull over.

"I'm not going to stop my car," he said.

Later, he asked the dispatcher, "Can you not find any authorities?"

The caller flirted with the dispatcher, trying to get her name and find out where the 911 communications center was located.

"I'm glad to have you on the line," he said.

When the dispatcher asked why he was doing what he was doing, he responded, "Everything that anyone needed to know got e-mailed to my parents."

By the time he reached Exit 108, the caller said two police cars were following him and he was slowing down and pulling over.

An officer can be heard yelling at him to stay in the car, and the caller can be heard later saying, "I've got to pull something out."

Before the call ends, the caller can be heard yelling "whoa" several times, and someone asks "Where (are) you going?"

Police said Smith confronted Flinchum during the traffic stop, and the officer shot Smith, who died at High Point Regional Hospital.

The case has been turned over to the State Bureau of Investigation, which routinely handles officer-involved shootings. Flinchum has been placed on paid leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

The SBI has declined to comment on its investigation.

Gibbs said he couldn't comment on whether Smith had a weapon – he said his officers didn't search Smith's SUV – or how many shots were fired.

The second officer involved in the traffic stop, whose name hasn't been released, also was put on leave because of the emotional toll of the incident, Gibbs said.

Chris Rice, an alumnus of Delta Kappa Epsilon, issued a statement late Wednesday, saying that fraternity members were "saddened and surprised" by the details of the 911 call.

"The last information we had on Courtland was that, when he left a party at the fraternity at approximately 12:30 a.m. and went to his off-campus residence, he seemed to be fine. Courtland, who was 21 years old, talked to his roommates at approximately 2:00 a.m., and he sounded normal," Rice said.

Flinchum has been with the Archdale police since April 2008. Before that, he spent six years with the Randolph County Sheriff's Office.

A memorial service was held for Smith Wednesday in Chapel Hill, and many members of UNC's fraternities attended. His funeral is scheduled for Friday in Houston.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • sunneyone Aug 27, 2009

    Kwaz, sorry you were injured. I hope you've healed. It's funny, because in routine things, inter-agency communication CAN fall apart, but when there's a crisis, it's usually perfect, like clockwork. Unfortunately, this didn't have a good outcome. :(

    Professor, you can't just randomly search dorm rooms without probably cause.

    Maddie, I haven't seen an official police report stating he didn't have a gun. Have you?

  • wcnc Aug 27, 2009

    "Cops treat all civilians as criminals so why shouldn't I treat all cops as if they were gun weilding manics?"

    And that is yet another example of how you are wrong. At least half, if not more, of cops dealings with people are with NON criminals....

    But I can tell from your horrendous attitude on here why cops deal with you like you're a criminal. When you catch that kind of attitude with a cop, they start to realize that you will cause trouble and they STOP treating you like a citizen and START treating you like a thug/criminal. If you treat them with disrespect, you can expect the same back.

    And I'm trying to figure out how you have SOOO many incident with cops at only 63. I know many people that age who have had little to no incidents with cops, so I'm starting to think you have been in trouble....many times....before!

  • WRALSUCKS Aug 27, 2009

    "don't call them and handle it yourself”

    We agree!

    Better a 1911 in the hand, than a cop on the phone.

  • cth1 Aug 27, 2009

    Doghouse60- WOW...sounds like you need some counseling!! Talk about a cop hater!! Whew!!
    Do you really think they would plant a gun on this kid to cover this up? Sounds like you've been watching too much tv. There are bad cops out there....just like any other profession! But, most are doing their best to protect us and want to save lives!

  • think1st Aug 27, 2009

    "Most I have met are arrogant, rude, discourteous, and couldn't care less about the average joe or jane on the street."

    Doghouse60, this is your perception, the fact is, this is just not true. Few are as you perceive, but the vast majority of leo's are good people doing their best to do what's right. Give us an example of a rude or discourteous encounter with the police? I had many encounters with the police before I became one, and never had a problem. When I was wrong, they did their job, and when I had a problem, the also did their job.

  • think1st Aug 27, 2009

    "The "shot 4 times", at least to a lay person as myself, certainly raises some questions."

    AverageJane, let me answer your question. Most people, civilians or police, never remember how many times they pull the trigger. It usually takes less than a second to shoot 4 times. So 4 shots would not be unreasonable to someone that is TRAINED and competent to investigate these shootings.

  • averagejane Aug 27, 2009

    Sorry SweetB, I hadn't seen the newest release.

    Doghouse, I understand your feelings and do know others who feel the same way. I guess much depends on personal experience. For myself, interactions with police have always been positive (though I have met a few rotten apples, just like in any profession).

    The "shot 4 times", at least to a lay person as myself, certainly raises some questions.

  • think1st Aug 27, 2009

    Which one of you experts can tell me where to get training on how to make the greatest decision ever(one that every single American will agree with)during the most stressful, tense, and trying 2 seconds of a person's life? To all the police haters on here, YOU ARE THE MINORITY! Like it or not, the other 95% of the citizens of this state support the police (I hear it everyday). We are lucky GOLO doesn't represent the majority of citizens views.

  • Tired of thoughtlessness Aug 27, 2009

    Maddie and Averagejane,
    So are the police supposed to wait for him to shoot to confirm? How many times has someone reached for something AFTER the cops told them to stop and been shot? In the end, the decision was theirs to stop reaching for whatever it was, and they chose to continue and therefore suffer the consequences. Again, I am sorry someone had to die, but he chose his own path. If he was mentally disturbed, then it was a family member's duty (or close friend) to get him help.

  • doghouse60 Aug 27, 2009

    averagejane, I absolutely mean what I said. There is hardly a day that goes by that you don't read about a cop killing or injuring someone under questionable circumstances. I can provide a long, long list if you're interested. I'm 63 and I remember when cops were looked up to, respected and the "good guys". Those days are in the past. I use to hate them, now I just fear them and I do my best not to be near one. Most I have met are arrogant, rude, discourteous, and couldn't care less about the average joe or jane on the street. Death and injury of civilians, regardless of circumstance, are just collateral damage to them. Just the cost of doing business. All they have to say is, "I feared for my life or safety", and all is just and forgiven.