News 12 First at Five, March 3, 2008
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- News 12 was first to bring you the radio conversation during that deadly high speed chase. In it, you can hear the deputy is called off the pursuit four minutes before the fatal crash that killed Laura Latimer on Gordon Highway and Old Savannah Road Saturday night.
Today, Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength talks to News 12 about the investigation into the chase and the deputy behind the wheel.
For now, Sheriff Strength calling this a terrible tragedy and one that could've been avoided had the suspect not fled.
Investigators say 19-year-old Jamie Ray Clark was stopped Saturday for making an illegal u-turn. While Deputy Anthony Gregory was writing Clark his tickets, Clark drove off.
Nearly a full minute into the chase, here's what the deputy is told.
Sgt Steptoe: "Break it off at the state line"
Deputy Gregory:" I got his ID and everything"
Sgt Steptoe: "Then, take out the warrants. Break it off."
While we hear Deputy Gregory's supervisor in the recording, Sheriff Strength says the deputy maintains he did not. "The audio is very plain in what the supervisors told the deputy...Both officers have been interviewed and say they did not hear when their supervisor told them to break the chase off...At this point we have not found where the officer violated any policy and procedure."
Sheriff strength says the reason deputy Gregory didn't hear the call? His own patrol car sirens. "That is understandable if you've ever been inside a vehicle with a siren on, you can hear very little of any transmission on that radio so there is a good possibility the officers did not hear that."
Sheriff Strength says the county's policy is any officer can initiate a chase but, "Without a doubt if a supervisor advises a officer to break the chase off, no matter what, the officer is to break the chase off."
While internal affairs investigates Deputy Gregory's actions, the sheriff says the blame lies with the suspect. "If you sit down and take two minutes to think the cause of this accident was the decision of the suspect to flee."
Four full minutes after Deputy Gregory was told to break off the chase, Clark's blazer hit a Chevrolet Bonneville at about 85 miles an hour. Laura Latimer, a mother of three, died.
"It's a terrible tragedy." says the Sheriff. "Our hearts go out to the victim's family and also to the young kid that was fleeing. It's a terrible tragedy for him also. We wish these things did not happen, but they do."
Sheriff Strength says as of Monday (March 3), Deputy Gregory is not facing any disciplinary action. In addition to the Sheriff meeting with internal affairs today, he says he also met with his road supervisors to discuss changing the way supervisors call off deputy pursuits; by possibly coming up with another signal or method to tell a deputy on the road.
Sheriff Strength also told News 12 that Clark has given authorities conflicting reports as to why he fled. Strength says the night of the accident, Clark told a deputy that his friend was egging him on to drive off "like they do on TV." The Sheriff says when Clark was questioned today, he said his friend was trying to get him to drive off, and when he refused, his friend pushed the accelerator and the chase ensued. Sheriff Strength says deputies have been sent to South Carolina to question the friend in the car with Clark about the real story.