Va. deputy dies after crash during chase
Officer Down: Deputy Sheriff Jason Lee Saunders - [Rustburg, Virginia]
Incident Details: During the response, his patrol car left the roadway and struck a tree. He was transported to a Lynchburg General Hospital where he was succumbed to his injures.
Date of Incident: April 3, 2007
BY AARON LEE AND JUSTIN FAULCONER
The chase started about 2:30 a.m. when a deputy patrolling the Yellow Branch area of Campbell County approached a green minivan parked in the Bambino's Pizza parking lot along U.S. 29.
The deputy become suspicious when he smelled alcohol and information provided by the driver didn't match that of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, Campbell Sheriff's Maj. Steve Hutcherson said.
Shortly after the deputy approached the van, the driver sped off, heading south on U.S. 29 toward Altavista, authorities said.
Deputies from Campbell and Bedford counties, including Saunders, joined in a pursuit of the van, authorities said. During the pursuit, authorities learned Saunders' cruiser had crashed along Johnson Mountain Road in Bedford County.
Saunders, a three-year veteran with the Campbell Sheriff's Office, was flown to Lynchburg General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The van was going as fast as 100 mph during part of the chase, Bedford County Sheriff Mike Brown said.
Authorities found the van about 7 a.m. and arrested Heather Lynn Bush, 26, of Bedford County and charged her with eluding police, a felony, in addition to second-degree murder.
Bedford Commonwealth's Attorney Randy Krantz said Saunders died as a direct result of Bush leading deputies on the chase.
Timmy Nichols, a passenger in the van, was not charged.
Bush is being held at the Blue Ridge Regional Jail in Bedford without bond. Krantz said he will oppose Bush being bonded out of jail.
Krantz said getting involved in a chase is typically at the deputy's discretion and that Saunders' response to the pursuit was the way officers respond to a distress call.
Saunders graduated from the Central Virginia Criminal Justice Academy in December 2004 and was hired by the Campbell Sheriff's Office. He began his public-safety career on Sept. 12, 2001, as a dispatcher and worked that job up until starting with the sheriff's office July 12, 2004.
Aubrey Cheatham, director of public safety in Campbell County, said Saunders was someone who worked well under pressure. Saunders was also the only person to make the transition from dispatcher to sheriff's deputy in Cheatham's six years with public safety.
"We literally lost one of our own just like the sheriff's office did," Cheatham said yesterday. "It's been a tough day here at dispatch."
Billy Allen, owner of Allen's Chevron in Altavista, said Saunders had worked part time pumping gas and changing oil at the station since he was 15 years old.
"He's just one of the nicest people you'd ever meet," Allen said.
He remembers when Saunders was working as an emergency dispatcher and told Allen he was going to train to become a deputy. "It's something he always wanted to do," Allen said.
Saunders' funeral is scheduled for Saturday at noon at the Altavista High School gym. Visitation will be held Friday from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Finch & Finch's chapel on Main Street in Altavista.