Officer involved in chase before fiery collision on the South Side in November no longer employed

A fiery collision on the South Side back in November that left one person dead and two innocent women seriously injured was the result of a 12-mile-long police chase that reached speeds over 100 mph.

After our Chief Investigator Rick Earle brought it to the attention of the Allegheny County District Attorney, he began a critical review of the chase.

Earle has now exclusively learned that the officer involved in the chase is no longer employed as a police officer and the district attorney said he has serious concerns if the former officers should ever be allowed to return to a law enforcement job.

“It was painful. It smelled terrible,” said Kayona Smart.

It’s a day that Kayona Smart and Lexis Windsheimer will never forget, or rather a split second, that changed their lives forever.

“I was just screaming and I felt the impact,” said Lexis Windsheimer.

“We had just gotten back from vacation, the day before we was in California. and we came home to a little bit of a mess so we decided to go to my mom’s house,” said Smart.

They got into their SUV just after 8 p.m. to make the short trip down Carson Street on the South Side when they were hit head-on by a driver fleeing from police.

“It’s a route we pass every day,” said Windsheimer.

The fiery collision happened on this curve near the FBI building on the South Side.

“I just heard her scream and then once I looked up all I seen was police cars,” said Smart.

Earle: Did you realize what happened?

Smart: I knew it was a car. I just didn’t know what happened.

Using police reports dispatch logs and witness accounts, Channel 11 pieced together what happened that night.

Earle said it all started at 8:16 p.m. in McKeesport 12 miles away from the location of the crash, when a police officer spotted an erratic driver and attempted to pull him over near the intersection of Evans Street and Fifth Avenue. The officer said the driver almost hit several cars.

The driver then took off across the bridge into Duquesne.

McKeesport police discontinued the chase, but Duquesne Police picked it up on Route 837, passing Kennywood.

Duquesne discontinued when the driver nearly hit a police car.

Homestead jumped in as the suspect passes the Waterfront, but stopped when the suspect headed into oncoming traffic.

As the fleeing suspect continues north on Route 837, West Homestead Police picked up the pursuit.

At speeds over 100 mph, the suspect passes Page’s Dairy Mart into the city of Pittsburgh with the West Homestead officer right behind.

And finally, by the FBI building on the South Side, the suspect failed to maneuver a slight curve in the road, crossing the center line and crashing head-on into Windsheimer’s SUV.

Channel 11 obtained the dispatch log of the chase.

“Conflicting reports are that Duquesne terminated as well and it was West Homestead that was in active pursuit. Now have four patients, with one in traumatic arrest,” wrote the dispatcher.

The 22-year-old suspect, who’s originally from New Jersey, died from injuries sustained in the crash.

A passenger in his car was injured as well.

Earle: There were speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour?

Zappala: 120 miles per hour.

Allegheny County District Attorney Steve Zappala has been gathering video evidence and reviewing the circumstances surrounding the chase and the decision by the West Homestead Officer to continue the pursuit.

“Once you start getting into some of those curves and you go into the oncoming lane of traffic, that is a really, really dangerous situation,” said Zappala.

Earle: That officer should have backed off, should have terminated?

Zappala: I think so, but giving him the benefit of the doubt, this is a dangerous man. He turned a vehicle into a weapon, and the officer was doing what he thought was appropriate.

Zappala said the officer’s dashcam video provided critical evidence.

“Without that video in the car, we could not gauge or assess whether or not the officer acted properly or in accordance with his training. As far as I’m concerned, he did not and I believe he was separated from his employment with West Homestead because of that,” said Zappala.

The officer resigned under fire.

West Homestead’s police chief would only say the chase is under review. He declined further comment.

After a police chase in North Versailles that killed three innocent people in 2016, Zappala and the Allegheny County Chiefs of police association issued a policy that, “…pursuits are only authorized if the suspect commits a forceable felony or is mentally ill or suicidal and a danger to themselves or others, or their driving ability is so impaired or reckless it is likely to result in death or serious bodily injury.”

It goes on to state that pursuits should be discontinued, ”…when the hazards of exposing the officer, public or suspect to unnecessary dangers are greater than the danger posed by continuing the pursuit or permitting the suspect to escape apprehension.”

“I mean you are trying to save lives, not put people’s lives in danger,” said Zappala.

Earle: You guys are lucky to be alive?

Smart: For sure.

Smart fractured her femur and Windsheimer shattered her ankle.

“I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t walk for several months,” said Windsheimer.

Both women are still in rehab and haven’t been able to return to work.

“Their injuries were very severe and they are going to be bothered with them for the rest of their lives,” said attorney David Romanow, who represents the women.

And the DA’s office is now investigating whether criminal charges should be filed against the former officer.

Whatever the outcome, Zappala said he knows one thing for certain.

Earle: This should not have happened?

Zappala: No, and I don’t know that he (former officer) should continue to be a police officer anyway. So, we are discussing that with him right now. That might be the best resolution of the matter.

“I feel like he should be held accountable. Lexis says for sure and it’s got to start somewhere so it is with them. so this doesn’t happen again,” said Smart.

There were no warrants for the suspect in Allegheny County and he did not appear to have a criminal record in Pennsylvania.

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