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Father of injured woman blames police for fatal crash

POSTED: March 15, 2008 5:00 a.m.
BRASELTON — The father of a young woman injured Sunday in a high-speed, head-on collision on Ga. 211 blames Braselton police for the crash that killed three people.

Gregory King, 22, of Statham was driving more than 100 mph in a Chevrolet Camaro and was attempting to pass a car on a two-lane road when he ran head-on into 21-year-old Patricia Griffin’s Dodge Neon, police said. Both drivers were killed, according to Lou Solis, assistant chief of the Braselton Police Department.

Bethany Fox, 23, of Winder was a front seat passenger in the Camaro. She also died of her injuries Monday at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, said Gordy Wright, spokesman for the Georgia State Patrol.

Police have not determined why King was driving so fast. Troopers found cocaine residue and a bag of marijuana in King’s pockets, Wright said. The state patrol is investigating.

A Braselton police officer was parked at the park and ride lot at the intersection of Ga. 124 and Ga. 211 at about 10 p.m. when he "saw the car come over the hill (on Ga. 211). The car bottomed out and sparks came out," Solis said. The officer determined the Camaro was driving about 100 mph, so he followed the car on Ga. 211 headed toward Winder. At that point, the car was far ahead of the officer, Solis said.

The officer was driving 80 to 85 mph in pursuit to initiate a traffic stop, and the Barrow County Sheriff’s Office and Winder Police Department were notified. The Camaro was driving erratically, still more than 100 mph, and passing cars on a double yellow line, at which point the officer activated his blue lights and in-car camera, Solis said.

About three miles after the officer first saw the Camaro, it crashed into Griffin’s car during an attempted pass near County Line-Auburn Road. Solis said the patrol car’s camera barely caught the incident on tape, because he was so far behind the Camaro.

"This was not a chase from our department," Solis said.

However, Jim Joyner, father of an injured passenger in Griffin’s Neon, said police should not have pursued King. They should have set up road blocks instead, he said.

"My daughter saw the blue lights. Obviously the guy (King) saw the blue lights. It made him make that fatal mistake," Joyner said.

Solis said other motorists or officers still may have been harmed if a road block had been set because the man was driving at such a high speed. Solis said if the officer had not pursued a traffic stop, he would have been accused of sitting by while an erratic driver killed innocent people.

The situation met Braselton Police Department’s sixfold policy for a pursuit. Officers consider the severity of criminal charges against the driver, traffic, location, time of day, weather and actions of the driver. In this case, the circumstances were such that the actions of the driver warranted pursuit, and the conditions were safe enough to pursue, according to police.

"If I had it to do over, I’d still back the officer up with the decision he made last night," Solis said Monday.

Griffin, who is from Lawrenceville, had turned 21 a few weeks earlier. She and best friend Nicole Joyner, 21, of Winder were headed back from a birthday weekend celebration with Griffin’s mother in Augusta.

Nicole Joyner was taken to Barrow Regional Medical Center, where she was awaiting transfer to Gwinnett Medical Center for surgery on Monday afternoon. Jim Joyner said his daughter suffered some broken bones.

Passengers in the Camaro were flown to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta for treatment, Solis said. The back seat passenger was Alan Hatton, 20, of Statham, who was listed in critical condition.

This is the second fatal crash in a week on that stretch of Ga. 211. On Feb. 24, a grandmother and her 7-year-old granddaughter were killed when a vehicle crossed the center line near Old Thompson Mill Road and crashed into their truck. Kathryn Collier, a student at Bramlett Elementary, and Nancy Hamrick, 68, died.

A young boy was taken by ambulance to Scottish Rite in critical condition. An older woman sustained a broken wrist and was being monitored for possible internal injuries.

The highway was closed for about five hours as the scene was investigated by the Georgia State Patrol.

Regional staff writer LeAnne Akin contributed to this report.



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