Local News

UNC fraternity president shot, killed during traffic stop

Posted August 24, 2009 6:43 a.m. EDT
Updated August 24, 2009 4:48 p.m. EDT

— A University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill student was shot and killed by a police officer during a confrontation after a traffic stop on Interstate 85 in Randolph County early Sunday, authorities said Monday.

The State Bureau of Investigation said Officer Jeremy Paul Flinchum of the Archdale Police Department shot Courtland Benjamin Smith, 21, of Houston, Texas.

A wreath hung on the door of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity on the Chapel Hill campus, where an unidentified alumnus said Smith, a junior biology major, was the chapter president. He said the fraternity brothers were stunned by the shooting and didn't want to comment.

Smith's family also didn't want to talk about the shooting Monday, said Rick Rivers, spokesman for Smith's high school, Strake Jesuit College Preparatory in Houston.

Archdale police said in a statement that a man in his early 20s called 911 from a car on I-85, between Trinity and Archdale, shortly before 5 a.m. Sunday to say he was suicidal. When officers stopped his car near the Hopewell Church Road exit, police said, the man became confrontational, and an altercation ensued in which an officer shot the man.

Smith was transported to High Point Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Police Chief Darrell Gibbs said Monday that the vehicle didn't immediately stop when Flinchum tried to pull it over, but there was no chase involved. A second officer arrived at the scene before the shooting, he said.

Gibbs said he didn't know if Smith was armed because officers didn't search the car before turning the case over to the SBI.

The SBI normally investigates officer-involved shootings.

Flinchum, who has been with the Archdale police since April 2008 and previously was a Randolph County deputy, has been put on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

Dennis Gerber, national director of chapter operations for Delta Kappa Epsilon, said he spoke with Smith Saturday afternoon to plan a visit to the UNC chapter. Smith sounded excited about the upcoming year and recruitment efforts, he said.

“We are extremely upset about the situation, and we are there to support the undergraduates and help them in any way possible,” Gerber said.

UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp said in a statement that the university community was "deeply saddened" by Smith's death.

"There is nothing worse than losing a young person. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends as they grieve and cope with such a great loss," Thorp said.

Classes are scheduled to start Tuesday at UNC, and the university planned to have counselors available for students.

"It's just one of the those things where you have to take a step back and understand that this is one of our colleagues. We definitely are grieving for him, you know, and for his family too," student body president Jasmin Jones said. "It makes you look at one another and say, 'I need to give you a hug today.'"