Cleveland home damaged after Willowick police cruiser crashes into it

CLEVELAND-- A Cleveland home was severely damaged when a Willowick police cruiser involved in a high-speed chase crashed into it early Monday. The family that lives there said the house has been hit several times before.

The officer crashed into the Hale Avenue home after losing control near the East 152nd Street exit ramp from Interstate 90 westbound. Ptl. Don Slapnicker walked away with minor injuries, but his cruiser was totaled.

"Any change in angle, any change in impact, it could have played out differently," Willowick Police Chief Brian Turner said. "Very lucky, feel very fortunate and blessed that he was able to walk away from it with a sore arm at this point."

The chase started in Eastlake, where police said three suspects smashed a stolen van into a Loan Max office on Vine Street, then used another stolen van to get away with an ATM.

Slapnicker joined in the chase that continued into Cleveland, with speeds reaching about 100 mph. Turner said Slapnicker lost control when the suspect vehicle made a sudden lane change and got away.

"I was scared. I didn't know what to do," said the home's owner, Byron Thomas. "I didn't know if the house was gonna blow up or anything."

He said the impact threw his adult daughter from her bed and shifted the home from its foundation, causing significant damage. Thomas and his daughter were treated for minor injuries.

Thomas said it's the third time his house has been hit since he purchased it in 1994 and he called on the city of Cleveland to replace a protective guardrail that was removed after another crash damaged it.

"I'd like to see them put an extended guardrail further out," Thomas said. "Coming off that intersection is very dangerous."

He said an inspector was set to examine the house to determine if it's safe to occupy.

Turner said despite the crash and the loss of a cruiser -- which will cost about $37,000 to replace -- he thinks Ptl. Slapnicker made the right call to pursue the van.

"We here in Willowick, we will, within reason, chase if you come and commit crimes here," Turner said. "If they just think they're going to be able to do it and law enforcement isn't going to at least try to catch them, what message are we sending?"

Turner said he hopes to review dash camera video from the cruiser if it can be recovered by the camera's vendor.

He said Ptl. Slapnicker was hit in the leg last week by a car driven by a burglary suspect who sped away when officers responded.