Local News

UNC student told 911 dispatcher he's drunk, had gun

Posted August 26, 2009 1:58 p.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2009 11:32 a.m. EDT

— A college student who was shot and killed during a weekend traffic stop told a 911 dispatcher shortly before the shooting that he was drunk, had a gun with him and needed help.

Archdale Officer Jeremy Paul Flinchum shot Courtland Benjamin Smith, 21, of Houston, shortly before 5 a.m. Sunday off southbound Interstate 85 in Randolph County, authorities said.

Smith was a junior majoring in biology at the University of North Carolina and was president of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity on the Chapel Hill campus.

Archdale Police Chief Darrell Gibbs said Flinchum was dispatched because a caller to 911 was threatening to commit suicide. Flinchum tried to pull over a gray Toyota 4Runner on the highway but wound up following the vehicle until it stopped near Exit 108, authorities said. A second officer arrived on the scene before the shooting, Gibbs said.

Guilford Metro 911 released a recording of the 17-minute call Wednesday. After initially refusing to identify himself, the caller says his name is "Courtland" and tells the dispatcher he's from Houston.

"I'm driving drunk, and I was trying to figure out if anyone could drive with me," he told the dispatcher.

The caller said he was driving at 95 mph on Interstate 40 and was headed to Asheville to pick up Interstate 26. For much of the call, he's rattling off mile markers that indicate he veered off onto I-85 south when the two highways split in Greensboro.

"I'm trying to kill myself on I-40," he said. "I've got a 9-mm pistol with me. ... It's in kind of like my back pocket. I'm thinking about putting it in the passenger seat."

The dispatcher repeatedly asked him to slow down and pull over so officers could locate him. At various times during the call, he fluctuated between wondering why no police were stopping him and refusing to pull over.

"I'm not going to stop my car," he said.

Later, he asked the dispatcher, "Can you not find any authorities?"

The caller flirted with the dispatcher, trying to get her name and find out where the 911 communications center was located.

"I'm glad to have you on the line," he said.

When the dispatcher asked why he was doing what he was doing, he responded, "Everything that anyone needed to know got e-mailed to my parents."

By the time he reached Exit 108, the caller said two police cars were following him and he was slowing down and pulling over.

An officer can be heard yelling at him to stay in the car, and the caller can be heard later saying, "I've got to pull something out."

Before the call ends, the caller can be heard yelling "whoa" several times, and someone asks "Where (are) you going?"

Police said Smith confronted Flinchum during the traffic stop, and the officer shot Smith, who died at High Point Regional Hospital.

The case has been turned over to the State Bureau of Investigation, which routinely handles officer-involved shootings. Flinchum has been placed on paid leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

The SBI has declined to comment on its investigation.

Gibbs said he couldn't comment on whether Smith had a weapon – he said his officers didn't search Smith's SUV – or how many shots were fired.

The second officer involved in the traffic stop, whose name hasn't been released, also was put on leave because of the emotional toll of the incident, Gibbs said.

Chris Rice, an alumnus of Delta Kappa Epsilon, issued a statement late Wednesday, saying that fraternity members were "saddened and surprised" by the details of the 911 call.

"The last information we had on Courtland was that, when he left a party at the fraternity at approximately 12:30 a.m. and went to his off-campus residence, he seemed to be fine. Courtland, who was 21 years old, talked to his roommates at approximately 2:00 a.m., and he sounded normal," Rice said.

Flinchum has been with the Archdale police since April 2008. Before that, he spent six years with the Randolph County Sheriff's Office.

A memorial service was held for Smith Wednesday in Chapel Hill, and many members of UNC's fraternities attended. His funeral is scheduled for Friday in Houston.