12/05/2007

N.C. officer on leave after fatal 90 mph chase

By MARTHA QUILLIN
The Raleigh News & Observer

FRANKLINGTON, N.C. — A Franklinton police officer and a driver he was chasing were traveling at 90 mph Saturday when the suspect crossed the center line on two-lane U.S. 15 and slammed head-on into another car, the N.C. Highway Patrol said Tuesday. The suspect and a pair of sisters traveling in the other car all died in the crash.

Franklinton police procedures prohibit officers from chasing suspects at speeds exceeding the speed limit by more than 20 mph or at a pace faster than reasonable for existing conditions. The posted speed limit on the highway where the wreck took place is 55 mph.

Officer Mike Dunlap was trying to stop Guy Christopher Ayscue, 38, whom he had seen driving erratically in Franklinton. The 13-minute chase ended 15 miles away when Ayscue attempted to pass two cars in a no-passing zone near the top of a hill.

Ayscue's Pontiac collided with a Kia driven by Linsay Erin Lunsford, 18, and carrying her sister, Maggie Rose Lunsford, 9, of Stem. The Lunsfords' car was traveling at 50 mph, according to the report.

Ayscue's car overturned and came to rest partially in the roadway. Both vehicles caught fire.

Franklinton Police Chief Ray Gilliam said Tuesday afternoon he had not seen the Highway Patrol's report and couldn't comment usefully on it.

"I am somewhat caught off guard," Gilliam said. "It is disheartening to find out this information, which puts a little twist on things. I am therefore seeking the counsel of my town attorney so I can respond."

Efforts to reach Dunlap failed. Town Attorney Mitch Styers said he had not seen the report and could not comment.

The Highway Patrol has completed its investigation and has said no charges will be filed in the crash.

Town officials are continuing their inquiry to determine whether Dunlap followed procedures and whether those need to be revised. In the meantime, he is on administrative leave.

Dunlap slowed and swerved to avoid the wreck. He was traveling at 70 mph when his car went off the right side of the highway north of Creedmoor, crossed a driveway and spun around in the front yard of a home. Lt. Everett Clendenin, spokesman for the patrol, said investigators determined Dunlap traveled 297 feet after his car left the pavement.

He was not injured.

The Granville County Sheriff's Office sent an officer to try to intercept Ayscue, according to William Wheeler, the county's 911 director. Two state troopers also were en route at the time of the wreck, according to Wheeler.

Dunlap has been with the Franklinton Police Department for less than two years. Before coming to Franklinton, he worked for the Apex Police Department.

Noelle Talley, spokeswoman for the N.C. Attorney General's Office, said the N.C. Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission had no record aof problems with Dunlap.

Ayscue, 38, has a criminal record spanning at least 20 years, with more than a half-dozen charges of driving while impaired. Until a toxicology report is complete, investigators will not know whether alcohol or drugs were a factor in Saturday's wreck. In August, Ayscue was charged with speeding in Vance County and was scheduled to appear in court in January.

A funeral for Linsay and Maggie Lunsford is planned for 7 tonight at Mount Energy Elementary School in Creedmoor.

(Staff writer Anne Blythe contributed this report.)

Copyright 2007 The News & Observer

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