COVINGTON — The Georgia State Patrol has been called in to investigate the fiery deaths of three individuals who crashed while being pursued by a Newton County Sheriff’s deputy Sept. 7. Their identities have yet to be released.
According to Newton County Sheriff’s Office Communications Officer Caitlin Jett, deputies responded about 2:24 a.m. Monday to a call referencing two suspects attempting to enter vehicles in a neighborhood located off Fairview Road. When deputies arrived, the two suspects jumped into a 2010 Toyota Tacoma with a third suspect who was driving; they fled the scene “and a vehicle pursuit ensued.”
According to Franka Young of the Georgia Department of Public Safety Public Information Office, the Tacoma was traveling north on Fairview Road, being chased by a marked Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicle with its emergency lights and siren activated. The Tacoma entered a curve to the left and the driver lost control. The vehicle left the east shoulder of the road at the intersection with Jack Neeley Road and struck a tree head-on. According to the report, the truck caught fire and all of the occupants were trapped inside and could not be rescued.
The victims were transported to the Georgia Crime Lab for identification. The Georgia State Patrol has not yet completed its report.
Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown said his office is conducting a separate investigation to determine if the department’s pursuit policy was followed.
“Anytime there is an incident involving an officer — a crash of any sort — there is an internal investigation,” Brown said. “That doesn’t mean that policies were violated, but to make sure that we follow policy.”
The Newton County Sheriff’s Office has a strict policy regarding pursuits. It reads in part:
“Deputies may only engage in pursuits when they have a reasonable belief that the fleeing suspect can be successfully arrested without undue risk to the public. Totality of all present conditions will dictate when to pursue. The shift supervisor will make the final decision on whether or not to continue the pursuit.
“Pursuit is justified only when the deputy knows or has reasonable grounds to believe:
“1. That the suspect presents a clear and immediate danger to other motorists or the public in general; and
“2. The necessity of immediate apprehension outweighs the level of danger created by the pursuit.
“NOTE: The mere fact that a suspect flees is not reasonable grounds to believe that he presents a clear and immediate danger to the public.”