Local News

Trooper Killed in Cumberland County Accident

Posted January 8, 2001 6:00 a.m. EST

— AN.C. Highway Patrol trooperwas killed after an accident near the Cumberland-Bladen county line Tuesday afternoon. Police are nowsearching for the suspecthe was chasing. Fiery Accident Happened During High-Speed ChaseJohn H. Duncan, 28, was assisting Trooper Chris Williams in chasing a gold-colored Lexus down Highway 53 East when Duncan lost control of his car. It crossed over the center line, struck some trees and flipped over.

Williams attempted to assist Duncan, and as he tried to pull him out, the car exploded into flames. Duncan died at the scene. Williams was not injured by the explosion.

It happened at 2:20 p.m. on Turnbull Road near Highway 53, just inside Cumberland County. Duane Procter was inside his house when he heard the high-speed chase.

"I heard a car go by at a large amount of speed, then I heard a siren and a big bang," he says. "By the time I got up, got my clothes out and went outside, the car was in the middle of the road on fire."

At the scene, the charred patrol car lay in the middle of the rural road. Papers were strewn around the crash site as investigators began their work.

Troopers say Duncan had stopped the suspect, Travis Elijah Freeman, 24, of Fayetteville, for speeding. After Freeman granted Duncan permission to search his car, the suspect ran to his car and sped off. Investigators say that speeds during the three-mile chase exceeded 125 mph.

Troopers gathered at the scene Wednesday to begin the task of reconstructing and studying the accident.

Police Step Up Search for SuspectAfter the accident, Freeman abandoned the Lexus and fled on foot. Police are searching for the suspect, who has a lengthy criminal record.

He has eight prior convictions on his record, ranging from possession of a firearm, drug charges and disorderly conduct. He also has three pending charges for possession of cocaine, assault on a government official and resisting arrest. Those are unrelated to yesterday's accident.

Freeman now faces charges of felony speeding to elude arrest and attempted first-degree murder.

Local and state agencies set up a command post Wednesday, where investigators are specifically focusing on the search for Freeman. Investigators say that Freeman should be considered dangerous.

"He has escaped," says chief deputy Cuyler Wyndham Sr. "Obviously, he should be considered dangerous."

Investigators admit they are having trouble getting answers.

"That's what we are trying to figure out," says the Highway Patrol's Sgt. Everett Clendenin. "Why did he run? Why didn't he stop? We can't get in the criminal's mind and get these answers."

Deputies are now searching for Freeman's girlfriend, Chasity Blackmon, who they say may be helping him hide. They also believe that Freeman may be using aliases while he is on the lam.

Crimestoppers is offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to Freeman's arrest.

As authorities pool their resources to capture Freeman, they are determined to make an arrest.

"We are all after one goal," says the SBI's Janie Pinkston. "That is to make sure he's apprehended." Trooper Leaves Behind Wife, Children; Co-Workers Cope With LossTrooper Duncan was based out of Fayetteville. He had been with the Highway Patrol for two years, after serving eight years in the military. He was from Laurel, Miss., and is survived by a wife and three children.

Duncan's co-workers are struggling with the loss.

"You try to remain objective about it, but it's an emotional thing," says Highway Patrol Sgt. Mike Hartsell. "It's a loss for the Highway Patrol family, North Carolina and all its residents."

The Highway Patrol is trying to help its troopers by offering counseling for troopers and their families. They are a closeknit group, with only 33 troopers in Cumberland County.

Friends say that serving as a state trooper was Duncan's dream job.

Duncan's name will be added to a monument that remembers Cumberland County law enforcement who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Reporter:Shani Blount, Melissa BuscherPhotographers:Dave McCorkle, Gil Hollingsworth