NEWBURGH HEIGHTS, Ohio (WJW) – Newly-released police video is shedding light on how a high-speed pursuit of a stolen SUV ended with the deaths of two teenagers in a fiery crash.
The tragic chain of events set into motion at 12:21 p.m. on Saturday, when the driver of a stolen 2004 Ford Explorer decided to flee after being pulled over by a Cuyahoga Heights police officer at Interstate 77 and Grant Avenue.
An officer from neighboring Newburgh Heights tried to make sure that other drivers on I-77 were not caught up in the pursuit, and it is dash camera video from his cruiser that shows what happened.
The driver of the SUV quickly accelerated to 105 mph and was weaving in and out of traffic.
The video shows the driver lose control of the vehicle, crash through a guardrail and slam into the wall of the Fleet Avenue bridge.
The SUV is quickly engulfed in flames. The police chief of Newburgh Heights says officers approached the burning vehicle to try and rescue the driver and his passenger, but were turned back by the heat of the fire and the threat of an explosion.
On the dash cam video, the pursuing officer is clearly distraught and says “I couldn’t get to him,” and a Newburgh Heights officer responds, “there’s nothing you could do, man. Nothing you could do. They made that choice and it’s a fatal choice.”
In response to questions from FOX 8, Chief John Majoy said, “We want to try and save lives and clearly there was no opportunity to do that here, and that’s very, very challenging because there’s nothing they could do.”
What the officers did not realize as they approached the burning SUV was that that there were two guns inside and that the bullets were becoming super-heated by the flames.
On the video, the tires on the SUV are heard exploding and officers report hearing gunfire as the bullets exploded.
According to Chief Majoy, “We had to make sure that our folks are back because you don’t know where the stray bullet is going. You know now it becomes an officer safety issue because you don’t know where these things are going. You’ve got people up on the bridge, you’ve got cars going by.”
The pursuing officer and those who responded to the scene are haunted by the disturbing news that the two dead people found inside the SUV are teenagers, identified by police as 17-year-old Kevin Harris, of Cleveland, and 17-year-old Derrick Townsend, of Toledo.
“(The officers) get to go home to their families, but someone else doesn’t… This was a conscious choice to run from law enforcement, you know, and unfortunately it had really bad consequences,” said Chief Majoy. “It didn’t have to be this way. You know, they could have stopped, and there’s a solution to every problem and that’s not the solution and so if we could just get that message out there, that it’s okay to stop.”
FOX 8 News spoke with Harris’ mother and she referred all questions to the family’s attorney.