Police Video Shows Chase Continued Until Crash
Posted January 15, 2004 12:47 p.m. EST
STATESVILLE, N.C. — A Troutman police officer chased a stolen car until it crashed at about 100 mph and killed seven Iredell County teenagers inside, according to videotape released by police.
The tape, which shows the view from a camera installed inside the patrolman's car, was released Wednesday by authorities after the district attorney showed it to the parent of one victim.
The video raises questions about a statement shortly after the wreck by Troutman Police Chief Eric Henderson, who said the officer backed off his pursuit of the 2001 Dodge Intrepid before it crashed Dec. 29.
In an interview Thursday, Henderson said the tape supported his contention that the pursuing officer's patrol car fell farther behind the Intrepid in the seconds before the crash, meaning the officer was not maintaining a hot pursuit.
"He was further back," Henderson said. "There's a greater distance between them than at first."
The nighttime video lasts about two minutes. The camera was activated when Troutman Police Officer Keith Bills turned on his blue lights.
Bills began his chase after he saw a passing violation by the car. The speed of the patrol car is 41 mph. About 1-1/2 minutes later, the speed increased to 89 mph and hit 100 mph eight seconds later. When the Intrepid begins to skid off the road, the speed displayed on the tape was 97 mph.
All seven teens in the car died instantly: the driver, John Lindsey Myers Jr., 15; Antoinette Griffin, 13; Dominique Hurtt, 15; Antonio Miller, 13; Quentin Reed, 18; Erica Stevenson, 15, and David Summers III, 14.
The Intrepid was reported stolen the morning after the accident. The car had a temporary "doughnut" spare tire on the right rear.
Henderson has said Bills followed the department's pursuit policy. The policy allows officers discretion to initiate and continue a pursuit, as long as they notify a supervisor and consider factors such as traffic, the time of day and the seriousness of the offense.
The Highway Patrol has said the video shows no criminal wrongdoing, such as reckless driving or hitting the Intrepid. The video shows Bills staying far enough back that only the Intrepid's tail lights can be seen.
All seven victims were black, and some in Statesville and Troutman have questioned whether the pursuit was justified. A Charlotte community activist has called for an independent investigation of the crash.
Sandra Miller, mother of a victim, has said she believed the police ran the car off the road. Miller viewed the videotape Tuesday at the district attorney's office; it does not show any contact between Bills' patrol car and the Intrepid.
Police released the video a day after an audiotape of radio conversations between the officer and a dispatcher were made public.
In the audiotape, Bills called in to the communications center at 12:05 a.m. on Dec. 29 with a vehicle registration request for the Intrepid.
After a dispatcher told Bills there were no warrants out on the plate number, the officer said he planned to stop the vehicle. Then he said it wouldn't stop.
Mooresville police have said they believe Reed was involved in a home-invasion robbery two hours before the wreck.
District Attorney Gary Frank said he was still conducting his review, but no longer needed to keep the tape private after offering to show it to the teenagers' parents.
In some police departments, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, officers do not have discretion to pursue for traffic violations because pursuits can endanger civilians, officers and suspects who are fleeing.