Officer Chased Suspect at 90 mph Before Fatal Crash, Troopers Say
Posted December 4, 2007 3:41 p.m. EST
Updated December 5, 2007 6:03 a.m. EST
Franklinton, N.C. — A Franklinton police officer who was chasing a reckless driver was traveling at an estimated 90 mph just prior to a triple-fatal crash between the car he was chasing and another car, the state Highway Patrol said Tuesday.
The report from state troopers came the same day that court records and interviews with an attorney disclosed that the man police were chasing, Guy Christopher Ayscue, 38, of Henderson, had spent most of his adult life on probation or behind bars, struggled with drugs, was prone to uncontrollable outbursts and at one point had said he heard voices.
Franklinton town policy on automobile chases states that officers are not to exceed 20 mph over posted speed limits. The limit on the section of U.S. Highway 15 in Granville County, where the crash happened Saturday, is 55 mph.
Officer Michael Dunlap braked as the crash occurred and was going about 70 mph when his town-issued Ford police cruiser went into a ditch to avoid the crashed and burning vehicles, troopers said in their report on the accidents.
Ayscue died when his car crashed head-on into a car carrying Linsay Lunsford, 18, and her 9-year-old sister Maggie, both of Stem, killing them.
In 2001, Ayscue's attorney said his client heard voices. A judge ordered a mental evaluation for Ayscue before he served a recent 4½ years in prison. Ayscue's supervised release ended two months before Dunlap saw him driving erratically through Franklinton and tried to get him to stop, beginning the chase that ended 13 miles later.
Town officials had said Sunday that they had no evidence that Dunlap had violated any policies during his pursuit.
Tuesday, however, the Highway Patrol released a report that carried results of an Accident Reconstruction Team review.
"Troopers estimate Ayscue’s vehicle speed at a minimum of 90 mph and Lunsford’s vehicle speed at 50 mph at impact. Troopers estimate Michael Dunlap was traveling at 90 mph just prior to his collision and 70 mph when he ran off of the roadway and struck a ditch bank to avoid the prior collision," Lt. Everett Clendenin said in a statement accompanying the accident reports.
The chase started Saturday afternoon in Franklinton on N.C. Highway 56.
After Dunlap saw Ayscue driving erratically in a 1988 Pontiac, police said, he tried to stop Ayscue, using his lights and siren. Ayscue drove off, however. Investigators do not yet know why he had been driving that way or why he ran. Test results to show whether he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs may not be available for weeks, they said.
“The policy we have in place, the officer has the discretion to pursue an individual if a felony offense has occurred," Franklinton Police Chief Ray Gilliam said.
When Dunlap signaled for Ayscue to pull over and he refused, a felony occurred.
Ayscue was traveling north on U.S. Highway 15 and went to pass another vehicle in a no-passing zone when he hit the Lunsfords' 1999 Kia head-on.
Ayscue's car burst into flame, troopers said, and the Kia was partially burned. Police earlier had estimated that Ayscue was traveling 90 mph at the time of the crash, and the Highway Patrol accident reconstruction team concurred. They said it appeared that Dunlap was going at the same speed, however.
Gilliam had said Sunday it appeared policy was properly followed 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. "But then again, we are still conducting interviews, not only with the officer but witnesses too.”
Dunlap has served less than two years on the Franklinton police force. He was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into the chase and crash.
The high speed does appear to violate police policy, but Mayor Jenny Edwards said no decisions have been made about how it was handled. Town officials met Monday with their attorneys, which they said is standard procedure in any situation from which a lawsuit might result.
Edwards said the entire incident was a tragedy for all involved and a tragedy they don't want ever to happen again.