Lawsuit in high speed chase death

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News 12 at 6 o'clock, March 7, 2008

AUGUSTA, Ga -- High speed police chases getting mixed reactions.
Law enforcement calling them necessary, while some families of people killed in crashes want justice and for the chases to stop.

In June of 2006., John Branton's wife, her son and his unborn child were killed by a driver running from the cops after shoplifting from an Evans store.

Now, that family wants law enforcement to pay.

It's a story that hits home for the family of Laura Felder.

Rosa Lovett feels like she knows John Branton, even though they've never met. "When you live through it, it goes deep. I have a different kind of connection and i don't even know them, but I can feel his pain and his anger. I can feel it."

A kind of pain she says you can't put into words. Lovett's sister Laura Felder killed Saturday in a fatal crash during a high speed police chase in Richmond County. "To lose them that way, it's horrifying."

By "them" she means family. John Branton losing his wife and her family in 2006 in another fatal crash during a high speed chase--this one in Columbia County. This February, Branton filed suit against the county and specifically Sheriff Clay Whittle and the Sheriff's Office--citing "reckless disregard of proper police procedure" because the deputy had no reason to believe the driver, Tiara Smith, had committed a forcible felony; one of the guidelines for chases in Columbia County.

Margaret Branton, her son Lonnie Turner and Turner's unborn child all died.

"Two years ago this happened. Two years and here again, a repeat. That should be an eye opener for them." says Lovett.

The 2006 pursuit started over shoplifting; this week's pursuit over a traffic stop-- "You've taken several lives in just two years with two speed chases, really unnecessary."

Lovett says she plans to become an activist against high speed chases, but first she must bury her sister and best friend.

Laura Felder's Homegoing Celebration is scheduled for Saturday, March 8 at 3:30pm at Macedonia Baptist Church.

News 12 asked the Columbia County Sheriff's Office for comment, they declined because of the pending litigation.

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