August 20, 2013

Veteran officer praised for actions

— With a trail of law enforcement officers behind him and a fleeing robbery suspect in front, a veteran Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office deputy helped end a high speed chase Saturday night that had started in Chattanooga.

Training officer Deputy Adrian Gomez got in on the chase on Interstate 75 near the Rocky Face exit as responders tailed 36-year-old Antonio Sheffield of Gulfport, Miss. Officials said Sheffield had assaulted a Chattanooga police officer, stolen a patrol car with a prisoner in the back seat and was heading south down I-75 at speeds that at times reached 120 mph.

Sheffield eventually left the interstate at Exit 328 near Carpets of Dalton, plowed through a fence near Rooms to Go, and took off down North Dug Gap Road with Gomez in pursuit, officials said.

Sheffield drove straight toward a dead end on North Dug Gap Road and as he saw the road giving out he “slung his car around to come back south,” said sheriff’s office Capt. Rick Swiney. Gomez maneuvered his own car to box in the stolen vehicle, and Sheffield intentionally rammed the patrol car as Gomez was about to get out, Swiney said.

At about that time — around 7:30 p.m. — Sheffield shot himself in the head, committing suicide, officials said.

Gomez was off work and not immediately available for comment on Monday, but Swiney said Gomez “does a good job” and handled the situation well.

“For what happened, it went very smooth and was handled very professionally from all agencies involved,” Swiney said.

Officials said Sheffield robbed a nail salon on Brainerd Road in Chattanooga at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday and hit a Chattanooga police officer on the head and stole a patrol car with a man suspected of participating in the robbery still in the back seat. Chattanooga police on Monday said they later determined the man in the back seat was not involved in the robbery.

Chattanooga Police Department spokesman Nathan Hartwig said Sheffield drove around the Brainerd Road area as officers pursued him. Sheffield turned on East Brainerd Road where he got on the interstate. Hartwig would not discuss what techniques were used to try to stop Sheffield, and said he couldn’t say how many officers were involved in the chase.

The pursuit eventually went down into Catoosa County and into Whitfield. Three Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office deputies were involved in the chase, Swiney said, including one who was waiting with stop sticks to try to puncture the fleeing car’s tires just south of Exit 328 where Sheffield left the interstate.

Swiney said he believes Sheffield may have seen the blue lights just ahead of him and decided to exit for that reason. A Whitfield County driver’s vehicle was apparently hit during the chase as Sheffield exited the interstate, but there were no injuries and the vehicle was still driveable, officials said.

Swiney said deputies earlier in the evening put out stop sticks near the Tibbs Bridge overpass in Dalton, but investigators aren’t sure if they worked. They believe the stolen police car hit the stop sticks since it had a flat tire when it halted, but Swiney said it’s also possible the tire damage came from Sheffield running the vehicle through the fence when he exited the interstate.

No officers were hurt during the chase, and the man in the back seat likewise wasn’t hurt, officials said.

“We may take some different things from this and look at training, but we’re already trained in pursuit driving, and the officers followed their training in this and did a good job,” Swiney said.

The Georgia State Patrol was also heavily involved in the chase. State patrol officials with firsthand knowledge of what happened weren’t immediately available on Monday.