No comment: Sheriff mum after 90mph chase for graffiti suspect

news-police-car-nightOn March 1, an Augusta County sheriff's deputy launched a chase that blew through eight red lights as it traveled through residential and shopping areas and hit speeds reaching 90mph, according to a story in the News Virginian. The chase resulted in the arrest, according to the story, of 18-year-old Sahvannah Nargi, who, along with Christopher Holcomb, allegedly spray-painted graffiti in Staunton. (In a related story by WHSV television, business owners breathe a sign of relief that two alleged vandals have been nabbed.)

And yet none of a Hook reporter's telephone calls placed to Augusta Sheriff Randall Fisher–- calls placed every day or two since the chase–- has been returned. A Freedom of Information Act request sent via email has gone unanswered.

In 1992, a chase by a Waynesboro officer named Joseph A. Thomas resulted, after Thomas ran a red light, in a collision which killed 19-year-old Rachel Zawhorodny. A jury, which was prevented from hearing testimony conjecturing a 67mph alleged speed, ruled in Thomas' favor in a civil trial.

One family endured the horror of losing a father and son in a controversial chase in front of Madison County High School in the early 1990s.

Last year, an 85mph chase on Charlottesville's residential Rugby Road nearly killed three people and caused over $100,000 in property damage, but Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo declared it "reasonable based on the totality of the circumstance."

Then, on March 14 of this year, a short chase that began south of the Louisa County town of Mineral, with an initial alleged transgression of traveling 65 mph in a 45-mph zone, led to the death of a male front-seat passenger, 22-year-old James J. Wolf Jr., of Powhatan.

Police pursuits rein in many criminals. They also create death and destruction. The key question the Hook wants to ask Sheriff Fisher is whether he considers the grafitti suspect chase an acceptable risk.

The reporter has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for any relevant dashcam videos.

–updated 8:06am March 8 with report of 1992 pursuit death
–updated 3:56pm March 9 with report of Sheriff's unwillingness to respond
–updated 11:08am March 16 with report of death in Louisa


Jimi, you take a very complex issue and try to make it sound so simple. What if the lunatic the cop shoppe is chasing is only WANTED for stealing a quart of beer at a local store just a few minutes prior to the pursuit beginning? Do you chase this lunatic at 90 mph when you already know who it is in the first place? :)

The bigger problem lies within the police chiefs and sheriffs themselves. Most will be more than glad to tell the public that they run their offices and make policy, not the public.

I think Longo did this most recently.... he said a Citizen Review Board was fine with him, but the bottom line was the fact that HE still ran his department.

quote: "Most people are probably not anti law enforcement, but anti police running over pedestrians in wheel chairs, anti shooting someone 60+ times, anti 90 mph chases and anti sending flying cars into occupied homes."

You forgot the part about the cop shoppe almost running over 2 pedestrians.... then locking them up for drunk in public after they shouted for the rookie to "slow the F*** down"! :)

Stop them at any cost. Preventing graffiti is certainly worth a few lives and some property damage. Hats off to the Augusta Sheriff's office they are ready to move to LA. I'll help buy them the tickets.

Well, as soon as the bad guys know that all they have to do is drive really fast and aim at a pedestrian to stop police intervention then all will be well....

One of the problems that I have with a number of posts here is the really negative attitude towards police officers. These guys do a hard job dealing with, at times, dangerous, unstable people - sure they screw up once in a while, but what would it be like without them ? In this specific instance, do they just ignore the violation (how many complaints would that draw about do-nothing police) ? At what point do they pursue ? If we had traffic cameras (something I think that many of the readers would oppose) perhaps they wouldn't need to pursue at excessive speeds.

I don't see anything wrong with holding police officers accountable for their actions in general, the catch all excuse of "without them we wouldn't have protection so let's overlook their mistakes blah blah" is really weak and doesn't hold up. They should be exemplary individuals because of their position of power, do we not hold doctors accountable when they screw up because "without them we wouldn't have heart transplants blah blah.."? Of course not.

That said, it's also really dumb to hold them to the same standards of say a heart surgeon, since their years of training hone their instincts to make snap decisions alone under pressure instead of learning how to precisely operate with hours of preparation and a full team with them at all times. They never have the same completeness of information and have to go with the most reasonable course of action based off of a few facts in second or two, and often are at a point where they are risking their own lives to save life and limb, which is not a state where the human mind can always make a perfectly calculated and informed decision.

Bookguy, how in the world do you come to the conclusion that traffic cameras, an already unreliable device, will help at all? Really, "clever" solutions typically add the most complication for the least payoff and the most horrid consequences down the line. Ask the Brits.

quote: "My friend Becky Zawharodney was killed back in the 80s in Waynesboro late at night by a speeding police car responding to a call that was a non-emergency."

Sorta like this video....

Cops horsing around and hit/kill innocent civilians at 94 mph....

Mertilator, you may or may not have a valid point about the streets in Stauton being dead at 2:30 a.m. The last time I was on Staunton streets at 2:30 a.m. was back in 1996. But it's certainly not normal in Charlottesville where the 85 mph pursuit took place a few months ago. The community is very lucky there wasn't UVA students returning home on foot from all the nightclubs and parties. And thank God there wasn't a motor vehicle coming through any of the intersections involved in te Charlottesville cop shoppe pursuit.

Central Virginia is riding on borrowed time. We haven't had a cop killed or a civilian killed in a high speed pursuit for a very long time. It's coming though, just a matter of time as these rookies turn the streets into a Nascar track after dark.

Ohh, I am here, Tim! :)

This is exactly why cop shoppe pursuits need to be banned. You can't trust these rookies out to figure out when a pursuit is justified and when it isn't.

Not one charged placed against the driver was worth the loss of human life. Combined with the fact they knew who the driver was already.

Once the pursuit exceeded the speed limt by 20 to 30 mph at any point, they should have backed off.

seems odd that the hook has not a single item on the county BOS meeting last night.....

Only a loser would take a cop job anyway.

Thanks. I didn't know the actual statistics had changed that much.

The question remains the same though. Should the cop shoppe be 22.22% black, or a 50/50 split?

quote: "Let’s report the racial disparity in the Cville department with black and white officers..."

Al, the last I heard, Charlottesville was 12% black. This figure is most likely not accurate any longer, so let's jump it to 15%.

Do you feel the cop shoppe should therefore have 15% black officers? Or do you propose a 50/50 split?

Just curious.

As of 2000, CVille was 69.56% White, 22.22% Black or African American, 4.93% Asian, and down sharply from there. If anything, I'd guess that the Hispanic/Latino population has creeped up a bit.

Paging Gasbag... Paging Gasbag...

What a blow for justice the Augusta County Sherriff has landed on these miscreants. That's how it always starts, you know. First, they start spray painting graffitti, and before you know it, they're jacking banks and terrorizing the populace. Lethal injection would be too good for their kind...

Pete Deer

Paging Gasbag”Š Paging Gasbag”ŠTim Brown, thank you. I needed that laugh.
I tho't how stupid when I fist raed the headlines also. Then I read Mertilator. You have a point there. If they indeed know they won't get chased, indeed it would be a free for all. But if they did know the names anyway as Gas says. In my opinion, It was irresponsible. Staunton is dead at that time, Mertilator, but it only takes once. My friend Becky Zawharodney was killed back in the 80s in Waynesboro late at night by a speeding police car responding to a call that was a non-emergency. I'm not anti-law enforcement, what a hell this place would be with out them.

Come on back Rob Knolls. We love you. We promise to be good and judge fairly. We need you. You were good.

Ok since none of you have ever been on the roads at 2:30am it is dead in a busy area, much less any part of Staunton. Also yeah I'm sure it would be a much better result the criminals telling all their friends that cops aren't allowed to chase them so pretty much go do what you will and if you see the lights then it's easy to outrun them. Boneheads.

quote: "If we had traffic cameras, perhaps they wouldn’t need to pursue at excessive speeds."

Huh? If the cop shoppe spots somebody driving a stolen car, how is a traffic camera going to help?

The key to allowing cop shoppe pursuits is to train the rookies as to when the pursuits are acceptable and when they aren't. I think somebody is dropping the ball in the training category. Not one crime was committed in Staunton that justified a 90 mph pursuit through city streets. Especially since they knew the suspect's name BEFORE the pursuit even began.

Maybe so but one time is hardly an epidemic and I mean it is Staunton. You don't harp on a guy who does something because under totally different circumstances it's dangerous.

wow the hook didnt like what i said about them , must have hit a truth. i say catch and tthrow em in the poky, letting scum get away sends a bad message. besides most of these artists are gang bangers. if you want them to be allowed to get awy then i want them to put pretty paintings on your homes

Let's report the racial disparity in the Cville department with black and white officers...

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Cops never think this through when it starts....They just turn the lights on and go and next thing you know it's like the chase scene in "The French Connection". There's really no more thought involved than a dog chasing a cat and by this I mean the whole thing relies on instinctive behavior. GB #1 is right....When not chasing someone on whose apprehension public safety depends, the chase should be broken off immediately once it gets crazy..
Most such chases end in a crash because the fleeing person's instinctive need to escape over-rides all other considerations and the cop's need to catch trumps sound cost-benefit analytic judgment.

but there's more! Free gas/vehicle in most cases, discounts to live in certain neighborhoods, free food at some establishments, and let's not forget the opportunity for side job security work.

Most people are probably not anti law enforcement, but anti police running over pedestrians in wheel chairs, anti shooting someone 60+ times, anti 90 mph chases and anti sending flying cars into occupied homes. All of this wonderful service and protection comes with no accountability because it is quite clear that law enforcement is above the law.

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What a cogent and coherent denunciation of all that is unholy. From your sophisticated reasoning, I am guessing you must be the Grand Wizard of the local Klavern.

Pete Deer

quote: "Only a loser would take a cop job anyway."

Why? With salary, benefits and overtime a local cop can easily make $60,000 to $70,000 a year.

I base this figure on a $36,000 starting salary, $14,000 in benefits and $10,000 to $20,000 overtime per year. (The $14,000 in benefits is probably a low estimate)