The darkened, wooded landscape whipped by as Hanahan police officer Travis Lanphere tried to keep up with a gold sedan that receded from view as it raced around a curve and deeper into the night.
Lanphere radioed to his dispatcher that his quarry, a late-model Lexus, was topping 100 mph.
Clouds of dust greeted the officer as he rounded the bend. He turned to his left and saw the luxury car lying on its roof in a wooded field. Seconds later, he was out of his cruiser and running.
“I’m here to help,” he shouted as he closed in on the wreck. “Let me know if you’re OK.”
One woman moaned for help, but two others were past the point of answering.
Two passengers died and two were injured when the car crashed during the chase around 10 p.m. Wednesday on Foster Creek Road, the S.C. Highway Patrol said.
The fleeing Lexus turned out to be stolen, with a pair of guns, an open bottle of wine and other loot stashed inside, police said. Officers found a third pistol in the waistband of one of the dead men, both of whom were ejected from the car when it crashed, authorities said.
Wednesday’s chase was the Hanahan Police Department’s second major pursuit in less than a month.
The outcome, and others like it, have some questioning whether local law enforcement agencies should abandon such pursuits, excluding the most crucial of incidents.
Supporters of pursuits argue that abandoning the option to chase would give criminals a free hand.
The Berkeley County Coroner’s Office identified those killed Wednesday as Patrick Graham, 19, and Martin Pinckney, 18, both of North Charleston. They died from head and body trauma, Coroner Bill Salisbury said.
The vehicle’s driver, Shaylynn Nichole Capers, 17, of Ballantine Drive in Summerville, and a third passenger were taken to Medical University Hospital for treatment, the Highway Patrol said. The driver was the only person in the vehicle wearing a seat belt.
Hanahan police had been patrolling Tanner Plantation, where the incident occurred, because of several residential burglaries and car break-ins in the area, Hanahan police Lt. Michael Fowler said.
An officer attempted to stop the gold Lexus ES350 after the driver flashed the car’s high-beams at him, a report stated. The vehicle’s license plate, which was not registered to the Lexus, was reported stolen out of Dorchester County, Fowler said.
The vehicle initially slowed when Lanphere activated his blue lights, and the driver appeared to be pulling over in a residential neighborhood along Crossbill Trail, a dashboard video shows. The passenger door popped open as if someone was about to jump out. Then the driver hit the gas and sped off, the video shows.
The officer followed the car as it raced through the Ibis Glade subdivision, swerving at one point and knocking down several mail boxes. The driver hit a dead-end and a rear passenger door popped open. The driver quickly wheeled around on the cul-de-sac and guided the car out of the neighborhood and onto Foster Creek Road, the video shows.
‘That was you?’
The pursuit finally ended when the vehicle crashed in a wooded field at the end of Foster Creek Road, just south of Henry Brown Boulevard.
Authorities found Graham on the ground about 30 feet from the wreck with a loaded 9 mm pistol in his pants and his head crushed, according to a police report. Pinckney lay nearby with multiple wounds and a large amount of blood. He died en route to a hospital, police said.
The video captures Lanphere attempting to calm and console Capers, the driver, who he found screaming and hanging halfway out the front passenger window.
She complained of pain and asked how her friends were doing. He told her to concentrate on herself and that she had a serious gash to her face.
When the officer asked her who was driving, she said it was her.
“That was you?” he asked, and questioned why she didn’t stop.
“Because they told me not to,” she said.
“Well, this is what happens when you don’t stop for the police,” he replied.
Head rest, front door
One of the vehicle’s occupants, Jimarie Travis Whitehead, 19, of Continental Court in Charleston, was found in a nearby subdivision after he knocked on a door for help, police said. He was taken to Medical University Hospital for injuries that appeared to be non-life-threatening.
Capers will be charged with failure to stop for blue lights, possession of a stolen motor vehicle and failure to dim lights, police said. Additional charges are expected to be filed by the Highway Patrol.
Police determined that the Lexus had been reported stolen from Dorchester County. The three guns found at the scene had been reported stolen from a home on Steeplechase Lane on Tuesday in a burglary in which a wine bottle had been used to smash a window, police said.
Multiple other stolen items were recovered in and around the vehicle, police said.
The car had been towed away by Thursday morning. Left behind were a head rest, a front door, a pink Polo hat, a Rick Ross CD, a Nike sneaker and the neck to a First Act acoustic guitar.
The chase occurred less than a month after another high-profile pursuit in town.
On March 11, a man running from a domestic-violence call led officers on a high-speed chase from Hanahan into downtown Charleston, tossing cocaine out a window and hitting a minivan as he fled, police said.
That same week, a 12-year-old led Goose Creek police on a car chase in a stolen mini-van from a shopping plaza to Interstate 26. And a North Charleston man was injured and arrested after he led police in that city on a chase on I-26 that ended when he crashed his car into a light pole and it flipped, according to investigators.
Police pursuits have generated debate here and across the country because of their potential for ending in tragedy.
On average, one American dies each day as the result of a chase, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Area police agencies have developed policies to prevent deaths, many of which call on law enforcers to determine whether the payoffs of a chase outweigh the risks. Policies on pursuit procedures vary, but they strike some common chords.
All call for officers to determine whether the pursuit itself creates a greater risk to the public than if the suspect were allowed to get away. All have restrictions against unmarked vehicles. All prohibit officers from driving as recklessly as the fleeing suspect.
Andrew Knapp contributed to this report.
Patrick Graham was identified as one of the passengers killed in the crash Wednesday.×
The door to a Lexus still rests on the ground Thursday after the sedan crashed the night before near Foster Creek Road and Tanner Ford Boulevard, where Hanahan police officers had chased the vehicle.×
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