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April 26, 2007
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Mo. sheriff says pursuit may have saved lives

Protocol was followed in the incident
 
By Ahmad Safi
St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.

ST. JOSEPH, Mo.— Deputies acted within the full parameters of policy during a high-speed pursuit earlier this month that ended in the death of an allegedly suicidal man, Buchanan County Sheriff Mike Strong says.

Several 911 calls described the Ford Escort weaving in and out of traffic and attempting to hit vehicles head-on. Deputy Jeremy Keener was flagged down by a motorist and initiated the pursuit, which lasted about eight minutes on U.S. Highway 59 and ended with the death of the driver, Anthony McCullough, 30.

Mr. Strong vehemently rebuffs notions that the deputies were heavy-handed or that deputies acted aggressively by continuing the pursuit.

"If they had shot that guy they would have been within policy," Mr. Strong said. "I don't mind taking hits when we make mistakes, but they did everything right and probably saved a lot of lives."

In recordings with dispatchers on the evening of April 6, Mr. Keener and Sgt. Shawn Collie described the suspect's erratic driving and said they'd continue the pursuit to warn oncoming motorists. Authorities later believed Mr. McCullough was suicidal, and Mr. Strong said the deputies' vehicles acted as a deterrent by shifting the suspect's focus to the deputies' vehicles pursuing him.

"We have information that the subject possibly could have had suicidal intentions," said Mr. Strong, who did not elaborate. Sheriff's Department Patrol Capt. Howard Judd said Mr. McCullough's behavior was suicidal.

Mr. Keener first spotted the Escort just south of St. Joseph city limits. Motorists had flagged Mr. Keener while he was on patrol on U.S. Highway 59 to say the vehicle was being driven erratically, Capt. Bill Puett said.

Mr. Keener caught up to the Escort at 9:27 p.m. His first dispatch back described the Escort all over the Highway 59 roadway with several near misses with other northbound vehicles.

Mr. McCullough then turned around and headed southbound on Highway 59. With speeds that topped 75 mph, officers said the suspect nearly rear-ended at least three southbound vehicles and then entered oncoming northbound traffic.

"This was all well out of the playing field," Mr. Puett said. "You can hear both units say they want to stay with him to warn traffic."

The dips and rises on Highway 59 placed the pursuing units as the best warning for the light-to-moderate oncoming traffic that night as they crested each hill and entered into a collision course with the Escort, Mr. Puett said.

Overtaking the Escort wasn't possible, and the deputies asked for assistance in deploying spike strips ahead from police departments in Platte City, Mo., and Weston, Mo., as well as the Atchison (Kan.) Sheriff's Department.

As the pursuit neared Rushville, Mo., at 9:35 p.m., the Escort abruptly ran off the roadway, hit an embankment and ejected the driver while flipping multiple times. Mr. McCullough was declared dead within hours.

Mr. Strong said there will be no investigation into the pursuit since officers followed protocol, which included providing constant status reports to dispatch and using officer discretion to maintain the pursuit. "We probably shouldn't be looking for demons when demons don't exist," Mr. Puett said.

A further report of the accident scene awaits a reconstruction by the Missouri State Highway Patrol and a toxicology report.

Copyright 2007 St. Joseph News-Press

Full story: Mo. sheriff says pursuit may have saved lives






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