Troopers say Russell Hahnel, 27, of Zebulon, ran a stop sign on Highway 64 near the Franklin County town of Bunn. When he was pulled over, troopers say Hahnel and his passenger, Sandy Walker, 36, of Zebulon, sped off.
Bunn police officer Brian Watkins initiated the stop and the chase.
"I became fearful for the female's safety because she seemed to be trying to get the driver to stop, and the driver appeared to backhand her twice," he says.
The chase continued through three counties. Bunn Police Chief Robert Jacobsen says he authorized the officer to continue the chase because he was concerned the passenger might be the victim of a carjacking or kidnapping.
"As a general rule, we would not chase for a minor traffic infraction for a long way," he says. "We're not going to allow them to just continue because they refuse to stop. They could hurt someone else down the road."
As officers tried to box the suspect in, he suddenly threw his car in reverse and struck a Highway Patrol car. The suspect and his passenger were killed. Watkins wondered why the suspect decided to run away.
"I would just like to know why he ran on a simple traffic violation," he says.
Watkins has only been a police officer for six months, but his boss says he did everything by the book, radioing with his position, asking for back-up and getting authorization to continue the chase.
AHighway Patrolaccident reconstruction team is investigating the crash. Early reports from officers on the scene point to alcohol being a factor.
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