HARTSVILLE, S.C. — Two people were killed early Wednesday morning during a high-speed chase with a deputy from the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office.
Darlington County Coroner J. Todd Hardee identified the victims as 27-year-old Amberly McKenzie Hunnicutt and 23-year-old Tyler Evans Terry, both of Hartsville.
Hunnicutt and Terry were in a car that was in the early stages of being pursued when their vehicle struck the Black Creek Bridge on Old Camden Road, flipped onto its roof and was then struck by the pursuing cruiser, Darlington County Sheriff Wayne Byrd said.
The incident began while deputy Richie Stevens was on patrol in the area of West Old Camden and New Market roads.
Stevens passed a car that was going 77 miles an hour in a 45-mile-an-hour zone. When he turned around and activated his blue lights, the car accelerated away from the cruiser, Byrd said. The deputy lost sight of the car for a minute but saw it again — upside down in the middle of the road — as he rounded the curve at a bridge over Black Creek and was unable to avoid running into it, according to the sheriff.
Byrd said the entire incident lasted less than a mile between the time the deputy turned around and hit his lights and the collision with the pursued vehicle.
The deputy and a volunteer ride-along, who was in the car with Stevens, were treated and released from a Hartsville area hospital, Byrd said.
Byrd said the preliminary investigation indicated the driver in the pursued vehicle may not have had a valid driver's license or had one that was suspended. Byrd said it’s up to individual officers to decide whether to continue a pursuit or back off. He said the deputy in this situation acted in accordance with the department’s pursuit policy.
“I couldn’t quote from the policy but yes, we have one, and yes, I think he followed policy,” Byrd said.
Vehicle pursuit policies obtained from the Florence County Sheriff’s Office, the Darlington Police Department and the Florence Police Department closely mirror the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) model.
The foundation of the IACP model is “the decision to initiate pursuit must be based on the pursuing officer’s conclusion that the immediate danger to the officer and the public created by the pursuit is less than the immediate or potential danger to the public should the suspect remain at large.”
Any law enforcement officer in an authorized emergency vehicle may initiate a vehicular pursuit when the suspect exhibits the intention to avoid apprehension by refusing to stop when properly directed to do so. Pursuit may also be justified if the officer reasonably believes that the suspect, if allowed to flee, would present a danger to human life or cause serious injury.
However, the officer is also expected to consider other factors such as road, weather and environmental conditions; population density and vehicular and pedestrian traffic; the relative performance capabilities of the pursuit vehicle and the vehicle being pursued; the seriousness of the offense; and the presence of other persons in the police vehicle.
Wednesday’s collision remains under investigation by the Darlington County Coroner’s Office and the S.C. Highway Patrol’s MAIT Team.