1 driver dead, 1 in jail and a family in mourning after Augusta chase

Published: Aug. 29, 2022 at 1:02 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - A suspect is in jail and a family is in mourning after a high-speed chase led to the death of an innocent man.

The crash happened Friday night on Old Savannah Road near Roselle Street.

According to the Georgia State Patrol, the Chrysler 300 was being pursued by Richmond County deputies, but the driver lost control after vaulting over a railroad crossing.

The Chrysler left its lane and struck a Nissan Versa head-on.

We spent the day digging into policy and procedures during high-speed chases.

Chris Harvey is with the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST). They ensure officers comply with training requirements.

Harvey tells us law enforcement has the right to violate traffic laws while in pursuit but has to use “due regard for safety.”

Richmond County Sheriff’s Office’s policy and procedures manual defines due regard as a “reasonably careful person, performing similar duties under similar circumstances.”

Richmond County Coroner Mark Bowen said 28-year-old Brian Heath of Aiken was driving that Versa on Old Savannah Road when it was struck.

The crash was so bad that Heath had to be extricated from his vehicle.

He was pronounced dead at the scene at 9:40 p.m., Bowen said.

The driver of the Chrysler 300 suffered serious injuries, too, and had to be taken to a hospital, according to authorities.

By Sunday, deputies had arrested James L. Thurmond, 31.

“You can’t go 150 down Peach Street at 5 p.m. Running over a bunch of people if you are chasing a jaywalker. That would not meet the legal standard to do that,” said Harvey.

Harvey says it comes down to the agency’s policy on car chases.

“For serious felonies or forcible felonies, or they may have some that prohibit pursuits in certain situations,” he said.

For Richmond County, the decision to pursue is “solely up to the deputy.”

“You have to balance what is going on,” said Harvey.

The sheriff’s office says no more than two units can be in pursuit.

“Depends on location, time and traffic, conditions, the experience of an officer,” he said.

They want drivers to remember that it’s the law to slow down and stop when emergency vehicles are approaching.

“Just get out of the way and not try to predict what the police officer is going to do,” he said.

Thurmond is being held in Richmond County jail on a range of charges, including murder, homicide by vehicle, bail jumping, fleeing/attempting to elude officers, driving too fast for conditions, open liquor container violation, seat belt violation, failure to maintain lane, driving on the wrong side of the roadway, removing or reaffixing license plate, expired tag, failure to show proof of insurance, safe operation of radios and telephones required, and driving under the influence/alcohol/less safe.

‘We miss your presence already’

Heath’s sisters are grieving.

Kim Calhoun posted on Facebook: “Never thought my lil brother Brian would be gone this soon.”

She urged people to love their family today because there’s no promise they’ll live until tomorrow.

Gigi Katrell wrote: “Broken is an understatement. This one keeps hitting and hitting and I can’t get a grip ... we miss your presence already boe ... from foot to foot behind me, sleeping in my bed, being my baby boy, Harlem shaking, being able to NOT to chores, choosing Pokémon while we was watching something else, to being a grown man, a dad ... but still our baby.”

On Monday, she posted that the family doesn’t want apologies but justice.

Bettina Heath posted on Facebook: “Brah, We Will Get Justice For You!!!! Love You Forever!!! You Did Not Deserve This!!!”

Hours after the crash, she posted: “I’m So Numb!!! I Can’t Believe This!!!!!”

The family has received a huge outpouring of support. So big, in fact, that they asked for no more visitors until Friday afternoon “so that we can truly grieve privately before the service.”

“Please understand this is one of the hardest deaths we have been dealt thus far,” the family posted.