EUCLID, Ohio– The Ohio State Highway Patrol said two people, a Cleveland man fleeing from a trooper and an innocent driver, were killed early Thursday morning when the suspect suddenly made a U-turn on the highway and drove straight into oncoming traffic.
Investigators said it was just before midnight when a trooper attempted to pull over a car on eastbound Interstate 90 in Euclid.
The trooper reported the driver, 28-year-old Vernon Hayes Jr., was speeding and driving recklessly, and refused to pull over when the trooper activated his lights. The pursuit continued until the driver was approaching the Euclid Avenue exit from I-90.
The trooper’s dash cam video revealed the suspect then slowed down and suddenly made a U-turn. His car was now traveling westbound at a high rate of speed in the eastbound lanes.
A short time later, he veered to the left and crashed head-on into an SUV, instantly killing the driver, 41-year-old Johnell Smith, of Garfield Heights.
Hayes was pulled from his burning car and was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
The state highway patrol said it was Hayes who dictated how the deadly chain of events unfolded.
“This was 100 percent preventable, no matter what. No matter what Mr. Hayes‘ problem was at that time, had he stopped, we could have dealt with it and prevented this senseless tragedy from occurring. Unfortunately, when he made a U-turn in the center of Interstate 90 and started going the wrong way, at that point, the only thing we could do is try to warn the oncoming motorists, but unfortunately the crash occurred,” Lt. Robert Sellers said.
The innocent victim, Smith, was the loving mother of three children, a devoted member of a large family and a dear friend to legions of Clevelanders. She was also a valued caregiver to the developmentally disabled and had just left work when her life was taken.
“This is a very hard pill for us to swallow because my mother was on her way home, and we were sitting up waiting for her. The last thing I told my mother was, ‘I love you, be safe,'” said Sunde Smith, her daughter.
Smith’s family said Hayes’ decisions robbed them of a bright light in their lives.
“Because he decided that he didn’t want to take his punishment, for doing something wrong, he took my mother from us. That’s not fair. It hurts, it just hurts,” Sunde Smith said.
Investigators are now trying to determine why Hayes decided to run from the trooper and then cause the deadly head-on crash. Among other things, they are waiting for the results of toxicology tests that would reveal if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.