Driver fleeing police slams into fire station
An Asheville man accused of selling drugs was in critical condition Tuesday night after speeding away from police and plowing his car into the Lenoir Fire Department building downtown.
Assistant Fire Chief Ken Hair and two firefighters looked out the bay door of the fire department about 1 p.m. to see a silver car speeding west on Harper Avenue approaching the sharp right curve onto Ridge Street, with a police car speeding behind.
"It looked they were in a chase," Hair said. "We saw the vehicle and said, 'Look what they're chasing.' He was coming around the curve there at a high rate of speed."
The car apparently was going too fast to manage the curve and barreled over the traffic island in front of the fire department.
"He hit that island, and we saw him heading toward us. We all just dove inside the radio room" as the car plowed into the bay door, he said. "Luckily it hit our truck. It could have been a whole lot worse."
Shannon Winkler and her daughter Katie Brawley were nearby when they saw the car speeding up Harper Avenue.
"It was being chased by an undercover cop," Brawley said. "The car jumped the median, it obviously didn't make the turn."
Brawley heard the impact and turned to see the car lodged in the bay door.
"It went, 'Pow!'" Brawley said. "I saw debris coming off the building. It sounded like the driver punched the gas before it hit the building."
The scene drew spectators from the U.S. Post Office across the street and nearby businesses.
"It was unreal, like you see on TV. But Lenoir?" Brawley added.
The chase resulted from Lenoir police conducting an ongoing investigation into the driver, Ryan Oneal Jeffries, 37, of 16 Harmon Circle in Asheville, and a woman who was the passenger in his car, Vanessa Mae Snyder, 32, of 6500 N.C. 226 South in Nebo. The Lenoir police said that around noon Tuesday, Jeffries and Snyder sold undercover officers 58 dosage units of morphine, 55 dosage units of Hydrocodone, 20 dosage units of Oxycodone and 10.9 grams of crack cocaine, with a total street value of $4,340, at a location on Hickory Boulevard near McLean Drive.
After the deal was completed, officers followed the silver Chrysler Sebring that Jeffries and Snyder were in for about a mile, turned on their flashing lights and siren, and tried to pull the two over. But police said Jeffries tried to speed away, and marked patrol cars along the route joined the chase. As the chase headed west on Harper Avenue, the Sebring tried to turn right on Ridge but was traveling too fast and instead headed straight for the fire department.
After the car plunged through the bay door, it hit a rescue truck. The car caught on fire, but firefighters quickly grabbed a nearby hose and put the fire out.
Both Jeffries and Snyder were taken to Caldwell Memorial Hospital. Jeffries was then flown to Carolinas Medical Center, where he was in critical condition Tuesday night.
Snyder was charged with six counts of trafficking opiates by possession, sales or transportation, maintaining a vehicle for selling a controlled substance, and possession with intent to make, sell or deliver cocaine, all felonies. Charges against Jeffries are pending.
Lenoir police are conducting an internal review of the pursuit.