The Franklin County Sheriff's Office-initiated pursuit of a motorcyclist on I-85 resulted in injuries to two law enforcement officers and the suspect. The incident continues a trend of high-speed chases across the state that places Georgia third-highest in the country for pursuit-related fatalities. FCSO has declined to respond to ConnectLocal's FOIA request for records from the incident.
On May 13, ConnectLocal covered a high-speed chase on Interstate 85 in Franklin County that concluded with a Franklin County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) Deputy, a Georgia State Patrol (GSP) Trooper and the suspect, Christopher Michael Campbell, being transported to Athens Regional Medical Center for injuries sustained during the chase.
ConnectLocal spoke with several commuters who were stopped on the highway as officials and medical crews responded to the crash, as well as several bystanders who were gathered near the off-ramp of exit 173. ConnectLocal also monitored social media posts and spoke by Messenger with several individuals who were posting photographs showing they were near the scene of the accident.
ConnectLocal was unable to locate any commuter who had witnessed the collision of the tractor trailer and the sheriff and trooper cars first hand. However, Crystal and Evan Jakes of Anderson told ConnectLocal that they did not see the accident, but were close enough to hear the impact and posted photos of the accident scene as they passed.
“Everything was already slow because of that motorcycle, but it came to a stop after we heard the crash,“ Crystal said, explaining that she and her husband were on their way home after dropping off a neighbor at the Atlanta airport. “They started letting people go by in one lane after a while, and we couldn’t really say what caused it. There were two patrol cars and a truck that were clearly involved in the wreck – one looked like it had run off the road and down the hill, it looked pretty bad, and there were a number of of other GSP and Sheriff cars, and one that I couldn’t tell whose it was, but was sitting kind of across the road a ways up. I guess they were all helping the officers who were in the wreck. “
Following up on the incident over the following days, ConnectLocal researched Campbell’s background and also inquired into the details of the pursuit, which disrupted traffic for a ten-mile stretch over several hours.
On May 18, FCSO Major Chris Looney provided the following statement to ConnectLocal:
“On Wednesday, May 13, officers with Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Georgia State Patrol, Motor Carrier Compliance and Lavonia Police Department were involved in a high speed chase with a motorcycle. The chase began on Interstate 85. The violator, Christopher Michael Campbell, of Pelzer South Carolina, was traveling North on I-85. When he approached the Hart County line, he turned around and started back south bound in the north bound lane. Just before Exit 166, he turned back around and started back north. Speeds exceeded 135 miles per hour. The chase came to an end when the motorcycle struck a Lavonia Police Department patrol vehicle at exit 173. A Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Deputy and Georgia State Patrol Trooper were also injured when they crashed on I-85 near mile marker 172. The officers crested a hill and traffic was backed up; they then struck a tractor and trailer. Both officers and Campbell were transported to Athens Regional Medical Center.
No information was provided as to the reason for the initial contact between law enforcement officers and Campbell. In one media report, Franklin County Sheriff Steve Thomas said that the reason may have been drug related.
“Franklin County Sheriff Steve Thomas identifies the suspect as Christopher Michael Campbell of Pelzer, SC. Thomas said just before the high-speed chase, his deputy had stopped another vehicle containing drugs,” stated a May 15 article posted by WLHR Radio Station. “He said the investigation into what led to the high-speed chase continues but he said investigators are looking into whether Campbell was in some way connected to the first vehicle that was stopped.”
No further statement has been issued regarding the reason for the chase.
Looney advised that the following charges had been levied against Campbell: Ten counts of Felony Fleeing and Attempting to Elude Police Officers, two counts of Serious Injury by Vehicle, one count of Aggravated Assault on a Peace Officer, Possession of Cocaine, Reckless Driving and numerous other traffic charges.
Looney told ConnectLocal that the Georgia State Patrol was the lead agency in the incident, and any further requests for information should be directed to them.
ConnectLocal submitted a Georgia Open Records Act (GORA) request to obtain the citations signed out against Campbell, as well as Law Enforcement Officer narratives and incident reports describing what initiated the chase and the sequence of events that led to the collision of the GSP vehicle, the FSCO patrol car and the civilian’s tractor-trailer rig. State law requires a response be provided within three business days to any request submitted under the Georgia Open Records Act.
GSP provided timely copies of all four citations issued against Campbell, as well as the vehicle crash report filed by the officer involved in the collision between Campbell and a stationary Lavonia Police Department patrol car. No incident reports were included from any other law enforcement officers involved in the pursuit and capture of Campbell. No incident report completed by the Georgia State Patrol Trooper involved in the collision was included in the provided documents. Upon further inquiry, ConnectLocal was advised that no further records were available from the GSP Open Records Unit.
“After searching, I’ve attached all of the reports and citations in the DPS database related to this incident,” the Open Records Officer stated in an email dated May 28.
ConnectLocal, at 1:30 p.m. on June 1, submitted a GORA request to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, requesting the following:
Under the Georgia Open Records Act § 50.18.70 et seq., I am requesting an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of all public records that pertain to the Sheriff’s Office involvement in the May 13, 2020 pursuit, apprehension and arrest of Christopher Michael Campbell.
These records include, but are not limited to:
All incident reports and narratives filed by FCSO personnel regarding the May 13 incident, including all deputies involved and all command personnel involved, including but not limited to Sheriff Thomas.
Audio copies or printed transcriptions of all communications between officers, dispatch and or command personnel during the full period of the incident, including any communication regarding the original intent to conduct a traffic stop on the individual, through the conclusion of the incident.
Footage from any and all recording devices (ie body cams, dash cams, et al) used by any and all FCSO personnel and command personnel, including but not limited to Sheriff Thomas, during the pursuit, arrest and incarceration of the suspect on May 13, 2020.
A copy of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Policy and Procedure Manual and any supplemental policy documents and guidelines regarding high speed pursuits, pursuit intervention techniques, and inter-agency operations.
Any warrants, charges, medical forms and booking documents, including photos, issued or completed by FCSO personnel that related to the May 13 incident.
Documentation of any prior interaction between the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department and Campbell.
As of 6:30 a.m., June 6, no response has been provided by the Franklin County Sheriff’s office and several phone calls to Sheriff Steve Thomas have not been returned.
Without a response to ConnectLocal’s GORA request to the Sheriff’s Office, it is not possible to review the FCSO high speed pursuit policy.
According to Georgia Code Title 35. Law Enforcement Officers and Agencies § 35-1-14:
On and after January 1, 2004, each state, county, and local law enforcement agency that conducts emergency response and vehicular pursuits shall adopt written policies that set forth the manner in which these operations shall be conducted. Each law enforcement agency may create its own such policies or adopt an existing model. All pursuit policies created or adopted by any law enforcement agency must address situations in which police pursuits cross over into other jurisdictions. Law enforcement agencies which do not comply with the requirements of this Code section are subject to the withholding of any state funding or state administered federal funding.
A copy of the Georgia Department of Public Safety’s High Speed Pursuit Policy is included in its entirety below.
ConnectLocal will update this report at the time the Georgia Open Records Act request is fulfilled by the FCSO.
A May 9, 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics BJS), show that Georgia ranks third in the country for deaths resulting from law enforcement pursuits. The data, which covers a period of 1996-2015, shows that there were a total of 369 pursuit-related deaths – the third highest total in the country. Innocent bystanders accounted for 76 of those 369 deaths – ranking 11th highest in the country. In that same time period, Georgia ranked 24th highest in violent crimes.The Franklin County Sheriff's Office has been involved in more than nine high--speed pursuits since 2015, resulting in four fatalities and more than six injuries, according to media reports.
North Carolina ranked 10th highest in the country in pursuit-related deaths, with 240, 93 of which were innocent bystanders (ranking 8th) while their violent crime rate was 347.0 per 100,000 residents (25th lowest).
South Carolina ranked 15th highest in the country in pursuit-related deaths with 180, 85 of which were innocent bystanders (ranking 9th) while their violent crime rate was 504.5 per 100,000 residents (7th highest).
The BJS data states “The Fatality Analysis Reporting System receives data on pursuit deaths at the discretion of law enforcement officials,” indicating that reporting of pursuits, and pursuit-related deaths, are voluntary and therefore likely to be undercounted.
According a wide range of statistic sets, each day, one person in the United States dies as a result of law enforcement pursuits. Victims are suspects, crime victims such as passengers in the fleeing car, bystanders and officers.
According to Department of Justice statistics, one out of every 100 high-speed pursuits result in a fatality and 56 percent of those fatalities are innocent third-party bystanders.
In May, a car fleeing Clayton County Sheriff Deputies struck a car, killing the teen driver and sending the passenger to the hospital. In February 2016, College Park, Georgia resident Cynthia Wright (age 75) and grandchildren – Cameron Costner (age 12) and Layla Partridge (age 6) were killed by a man in a stolen Chevrolet Suburban who was was trying to outrun a police vehicle pursuing him. Wright and Costner were taken to the hospital where they were pronounced dead. It wasn't until officials were able to contact family members and were advised by the children's mother that Partridge was in the car with Wright and Costner. Officers returned to the scene and found her body concealed in brush and shrubs where she had landed when she had been ejected from the vehicle. The man who had been driving the Suburban fled on foot and was not apprehended. In January of this year, a Long County sheriff’s deputy was killed after crashing his patrol vehicle during a pursuit in South Georgia. These incidents show the frequently tragic results of high speed law enforcement pursuits, according to the National Police Accountability Project.
A majority of law enforcement pursuits result from, not an effort to detain a dangerous felon, but from an attempted stop for a traffic violation, according to Department of Justice figures. Even for those that are initiated regarding a major crime, it is often based on speculation that the subject is guilty of a crime.
Agencies that adopt high-speed pursuit policies attempt to provide guidance to officers in determining when the risks created by the chase outweigh the need to immediately apprehend the suspect.
“Many progressive policies instruct officers who terminate a chase to stop, pull over, radio their position, and drive away from the suspect to signal that the officer has given up and the suspect has “won,” explained David P. Schultz, co-author of Evidence-Based Decisions on Police Pursuits. “Without a doubt, the reckless actions of the fleeing suspect can create a dangerous situation for all concerned The question is, When will the suspect slow and his driving become safe?”
A review of more than 400 law enforcement incidents involving high speed revealed that 30 percent of the suspects crashed, 30 percent stopped, and 25 percent outran the police. The study identified that 32 percent were driving a stolen car, 27 percent had a suspended driver’s license, 27 percent wanted to avoid arrest, and 21 percent were driving under the influence.
“One of the more interesting findings from the suspects concerned their willingness to slow down when the police stopped chasing them. Approximately 75 percent reported that they would slow down when they felt safe,” stated Schultz. “They explained that on average, they would have “to be free from the police show of authority by emergency lights or siren for approximately two blocks in town...and 2.5 miles on a freeway.”
Interviews with law enforcement officers involved in high speed chases show that the officers showed similar beliefs that suspects would slow down within a short period of time and distance if active pursuit was abandoned.
During a one-year period in 2007-08, US law enforcement officers reported being involved in a total of 10,384 pursuits, with roughly 35-40 percent resulting in a crash.
A study of officer perceptions of how quickly suspects would abandon their reckless driving if the pursuit was clearly abandoned showed that “On average, the officers reported that suspects would quit running after 1.7 blocks in town. Overall, 98 percent advised that suspects would stop within five or fewer blocks. In out-of-town pursuits, the officers thought that on average, suspects would quit running after seven miles. Seventy percent believed that suspects would stop within 10 miles.
Data from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash records show that more than 416 people were killed in police chases in the United States in 2017. That was a 22-percent increase from 2013, and the fourth straight year that the number of chase-related deaths increased.
The NHTSA 2017 data shows that 57 of the 416 killed in 2017 were the result of chases that exceeded 100 mph and 25 percent of the pursued drivers were intoxicated, despite law enforcement industry concerns about pursuing suspects known or suspected to be intoxicated, given their already-decreased driving ability.
Between 1979 and 2017, more than 13,000 people were killed in law enforcement pursuits, and more than 2,700 of those killed were people not involved in the chase – either pedestrians or people in cars other than those involved in the chase.
A similar study conducted by 1Point21 Interactive shows there were 1,699 fatal crashes involving police chases from 2014-2018, killing at least 2,005 people – 1,123 of which were not the driver of the fleeing vehicle.
Among those killed were:882 fleeing drivers, 337 fleeing vehicle passengers, 21 police officers. 765 bystanders (occupants of uninvolved vehicles or non-motorists), and 75 non-motorists (67 pedestrians, 5 bicyclists and 3 on another means of personal conveyance)
A 2015 template police published by the International Association of Chiefs of Polices states “Pursuit is authorized only if the officer has a reasonable belief that the suspect, if allowed to flee, would present a danger to human life or cause serious injury. In general, pursuits for minor violations are discouraged.”
According to information distributed by the Police Executive Research Forum, there is no empirical evidence that restrictions on law enforcement pursuits leads to an increase in crime and lawlessness.
Conclusions of pursuits often involve the use of spike strips. More than 25 law enforcement officer have been killed deploying the strips, typically due to being hit by the fleeing driver, a 2017 National Institute of Justice report prepared by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
Outside of fatalities, high speed pursuits often end in injuries that, while falling short of death, have long-lasting impacts, often on innocent bystanders. Paralyzation, brain injuries and other serious injuries have resulted from pursuits, but no government agency tracks injuries as a result of pursuit crashes, so the extent of the problem is unknown. Reports from both law enforcement agencies and academic studies estimate that an average of 37 percent of all vehicular police pursuits end in a collision and 91.4 percent of all chases are for non-violent crimes.
“Every pursuit has the potential to end in a deadly crash. While the first cause falls squarely on the drivers who flee, we can no longer justify pursuit fatalities or injuries by simply saying, ‘If the drivers had not fled, these innocent victims would not have been killed or injured.’”stated Candy Priano, Founder and Victim Services Director of PursuitSAFETY.
MAY 13 MOTORCYCLE CHASE SUSPECT
Christopher Michael Campbell
Residence: Pelzer, SC; Born: 1973
Motor Vehicle Crash Report: 5/13/20
Filed by Lavonia Police Officer Joshua Atkins
Location: Interstate 85 Northbound @ Georgia Hwy. 17 Exit
Vehicle #1 was recklessly fleeing from law enforcement agencies on Interstate 85. Vehicle #1 (2018 Suzuki GSX-R600 motorcycle, driven by Campbell) exited the Interstate at exit 173. Vehicle #2, a marked law enforcement patrol vehicle with its emergency lights activated was stopped in the roadway on the exit ramp. Vehicle #1 attempted to drive around Vehicle #2 on the right shoulder. The front of Vehicle #1 struck the right front bumper and push bumper of Vehicle #2. The collision pushed both vehicles forward and came to rest at the edge of the roadway. The collision caused Driver #1 to be ejected and came to rest on the right shoulder. Driver #2 advised he was stopped and sitting on the exit ramp in an attempt to slow and prevent the fleeing motorcycle from recklessly entering the intersection of Georgia 17. This crash investigation was recorded.
Citations noted on Crash Report:
O.C.G.A. §40-5-121 Driving while licenses suspended or revoked
O.C.G.A. § 40-6-48 Failure to maintain Lane
O.C.G.A. § 40-6-390 Reckless Driving
O.C.G.A. § 40-2-20 - REGISTRATION/LICENSE REQUIREMENTS-DURING OWNERS REGIST
Campbell is scheduled to appear in Franklin County Probate Court at 9 a.m. on July 10 on the above listed charges.
Campbell's Criminal History
Feb. 2020 – Arrest – Laurens County SC – Failure to appear in court Nov. 2018 on charge of Forgery.
August 27, 2018: WLBG News Report: Christopher Michael Campbell of 9430 Augusta Road, Pelzer, charged with Trafficking in Meth or Cocaine Base, Possession of a Controlled Substance, Driving under Suspension and Failure to Stop for a Blue Light. Deputy Andrew Turner states that in Laurens County on August 23rd Christopher Campbell had in his possession between 100 and 200 grams of methamphetamine, an amount that constitutes trafficking. Campbell was further accused of being in possession of oxycodone, a schedule I/II controlled substance, without authority to do so. Deputy Turner also alleges that on August 23rd Campbell failed to stop the motor vehicle he was driving when signaled to do so by means of siren and/or flashing lights on a law enforcement vehicle. He further alleges that Campbell was driving with his license suspended, and that he has at least one prior conviction for Driving under Suspension in the past five years. Cash or surety bonds were set at $75,000 for the Trafficking warrant. With all four charges, his bond totals $91,270. Christopher Michael Campbell remained in the Laurens County Detention Center this morning.
May 30,2016 – USA Today Report: Police arrested Christopher Michael Campbell, 43, in downtown Asheville for parole violations. He had been considered a possible lead in the May 12 2016 assault on the Mountains To Sea Trail near Craggy Gardens and the Blue Ridge Parkway, In recent weeks, Campbell was being sought by the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force. He had been released from prison on April 28, but failed to report for mandatory supervised probation, according to Keith Acree, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Safety. Campbell was convicted in Buncombe County in 2015 for possession with intent to sell a schedule II narcotic and uttering a forged instrument, according to court records. He also has a criminal history that includes larceny and sexual battery, which are both considered misdemeanor charges. Officers arrested him Sunday morning after he was found in Pritchard Park around 9:45 a.m., according to an Asheville Police report. He was charged with a parole violation and put in custody at the Buncombe County Detention Facility without bond.
ConnectLocal.News spoke on May 30, 2020, with Leesa Brandon, Public Information Officer for the Blue Ridge Parkway, who advised that the investigation into the incident near Craggy Gardens is still ongoing, but that Campbell had been dismissed as a suspect.
GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY POLICY MANUAL
POLICY NUMBER 17.02
REVISED DATE 5/15/2019
POLICY REVIEWED 5/15/2019
Law Enforcement Pursuits in Georgia: Review and Recommendations Submitted by the Ad Hoc Committee on Law Enforcement Pursuits Adopted by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Board July 22, 2006