10/17/2003

Undercover Officer Dies in Accident

Officer Down: Donnie R. Washington - [Columbia, South Carolina]

Richland County narcotics officer was working on case, sheriff says.

By CLIF LeBLANC and J.R. GONZALES, The State, Columbia, S.C.

A Richland County undercover narcotics officer was killed early Thursday morning when he lost control of his sport utility vehicle on Broad River Road and crashed into a house.

Donnie R. Washington, 31, of Columbia, was working on a case for the sheriff’s department when he crashed about 4:45 a.m., said Sheriff Leon Lott.

The Highway Patrol is investigating.

Washington died from “the trauma of several serious injuries” about 5:30 a.m. at Palmetto Health Richland, said coroner Gary Watts.

State police and rescuers did not know Washington was a police officer when they arrived at the crash because he was not carrying police identification, Lott said.

Washington was last in touch with the sheriff’s department about two hours before the crash when he left a message about a case on another officer’s cell phone, Lott said.

The SUV crossed the centerline on Broad River, hit a gully on the opposite side and went airborne, said patrol spokesman Johnny Cribb.

The unmarked police vehicle struck the edge of a house in the 3500 block of Broad River, Cribb said, and damaged two cars there. No one was hurt at the house.

Troopers do not know why Washington lost control of the SUV, Cribb said.

Lott said he did not know whether Washington was chasing someone or was being chased.

“He was working on a case,” the sheriff said. He sometimes was involved in chases.

Washington had worked since September 2001 with the sheriff’s narcotics squad.

The sheriff, who admits his heart has always been with the narcotics team, took Washington’s death especially hard Thursday. He had recruited Washington to the squad about three years ago.

Before coming to Richland County, Washington had been an undercover narcotics officer for 5? years with the Lancaster city police and had worked briefly with the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Department, Lott said.

Lancaster police officials did not return calls Thursday.

“He just had that bubbling, outgoing personality,” Lott said.. “The cases he made were excellent. He was a role-model narcotics agent.”

Washington had won awards for power lifting and competed in the police Olympics, Lott said.

Washington grew up in Lancaster, reared by his grandmother. He was a new father: His 7-month-old son survives him.

Funeral arrangements will be made in Lancaster and plans for memorials for Washington are incomplete, Lott said.

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