News 12 First at Five / Monday, Aug. 26, 2013
GROVETOWN, Ga. (WRDW) -- It started with a flat tire but ended with gunshots.
Those shots marked the end of a four hour standoff with 58-year-old Joseph Crist, who was threatening suicide along I-20 Sunday night.
"Responding units immediately to that call located an armed subject under the Chamblin Road overpass at I-20," explained Capt. Morris, Columbia County Sheriff's Office.
Crisis negotiators spent hours trying to deescalate the situation.
"Negotiators did the very best they could. They had a conversation with him, many conversations with him over four hours in an attempt to deescalate the situation, unfortunately to no avail," Morris said.
It's an ending deputies wish had ended differently.
"We initially fired less lethal rounds, i.e. beanbags, as well as sponge rounds and that proved ineffective," Morris said.
Morris says it wasn't until the man raised his own weapon and pointed it at deputies when officers finally used lethal force.
"Shortly after 10:30 p.m., this individual pointed a weapon at one of our deputies, and this individual was shot multiple times. He was pronounced dead at the scene. It's our worst nightmare, you know, we don't enjoy these moments, but they are highly trained. [Deputies] know what to do and when to do it," Morris said.
A tricky spot on I-20, deputies did everything they could to contain the situation and keep people safe, including establishing a perimeter and rerouting traffic away from the man considered armed and unpredictable.
"It was extremely difficult because of the area. It was a heavily wooded area nearby. The last thing we want or will allow to happen is for a maniac with a gun to be running loose in the woods who could possibly go door to door," Morris said.
Morris says deputies weren't the only ones who fired shots on Sunday. Investigators say they found two .45 shell casings at the scene. They also say Crist was holding a .45 caliber gun. Now they're just waiting on forensics to confirm it came from his gun.
The standoff shut down both lanes of I-20 from exit 183 to 190, causing traffic to back up for miles along the busy interstate. Deputies worked for hours to reroute traffic through Columbia County.
"Obviously, many people were inconvenienced and were upset and we understand that, but we had a very dangerous situation on hand at the time," Morris said.
Deputies worked to prevent one tragedy, only to be faced with another. Morris says even though this didn't end the way they'd hoped, when a subject raises his gun, the deputies are left with no choice.
"The ultimate goal is for everyone to go home safely, including this individual. Unfortunately, he was a determined individual and it didn't work out as planned," Morris said.
Columbia County deputy Joseph Baker has been placed on administrative leave with pay, which is protocol on any deadly force case.