Police: Pursuit that ended in wreck followed policy
The Lenoir police officers who followed a drug suspect's speeding car down Harper Avenue on Tuesday appeared to follow established policy on high-speed pursuits, Chief Scott Brown said Wednesday.
Officers in three unmarked vehicles had followed Ryan Oneal Jeffries, 37, of Asheville and Vanessa Mae Snyder, 32, of Nebo, who were in a silver Chrysler Sebring, after police say Jeffries sold drugs to an undercover officer. When officers tried to get him to pull over, he instead sped away.
The officers in pursuit at times went as fast as 67 mph to try to catch up to the Sebring, a police press release said. By the time they caught up, the Sebring already had crashed into the fire station, narrowly missing several firefighters and causing severe damage to a a 35,000-pound rescue truck. The truck could be a total loss and may have to be replaced, fire officials said.
"He elected to continue running from us," said Lenoir Police Chief Scott Brown. "He wrecked because of his choices, not because of ours.
"It's unfortunate the circumstances ended up the way they did, but we took reasonable precautions to safeguard the community. We're not convinced it was a chase in the traditional sense."
Jeffries had been under investigation for some time in the illegal sale of prescription medication, a police press release said. Investigators arranged several undercover buys, including the one Tuesday that led to the pursuit.
Jeffries also was considered dangerous due to his extensive record in Buncombe, McDowell and Swain counties. N.C. Division of Adult Correction records show misdemeanor and felony convictions dating back to 1995, including assault inflicting serious injury, indecent liberties with a child, resisting an officer, assault on an officer, speeding to elude arrest, obstructing justice, failure to register as a sex offender, and numerous felony drug charges ranging from trafficking to possession with intent to sell.
A video taken by a police dashboard camera released Wednesday by the Lenoir Police Department shows the officers's vehicles following the Sebring north on U.S. 321 toward Smith Crossroads after police said was Tuesday's undercover drug buy. They followed the Sebring into the parking lot of Burger King, then out onto Wilkesboro Boulevard going west.
As the vehicles went through the intersection, the police vehicles turned on their blue lights to try to get Jeffries to pull over, and he steered his car into the Rite-Aid parking lot, but then sped through it to U.S. 321, then south and quickly turned west on Harper Avenue and sped away.
The next time the Sebring appears in the video, it is lodged in one of the bay doors of the fire department.
The impact of the Sebring knicked the 35,000-pound rescue truck back back a few feet, Fire Chief Ken Briscoe said. The truck's frame was warped, and its motor and radiator were destroyed. It will cost about $300,000 to replace it, Briscoe said. Damage to the bay door, which was being repaired Wednesday, was estimated at $1,000. Other repairs also are needed, including the floor. Insurance adjusters were at the fire department Wednesday.
Jeffries and Snyder were injured in the wreck. Snyder was treated at Caldwell Memorial Hospital and released into police custody. Jeffries was flown to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte in critical condition, but on Wednesday he was upgraded to fair condition and was able to speak, Capt. Brent Phelps said.
Warrants have been issued against Jeffries for nine counts felony trafficking in opium or heroin, felony possession with intent to make, sell or deliver cocaine, felony fleeing to elude arrest with a motor vehicle, failure to heed lights or sirens, driving while license revoked and reckless driving to endanger.
A portion of the dash cam video can be viewed on www.newstopic.net and the News-Topic Facebook page.