A 16-year-old male who crashed a car in downtown Savannah on Monday morning after fleeing a suspected crime scene in Bluffton has been charged with two felonies.
Bluffton Police Department spokesperson Joy Nelson said Thursday that the male, who she declined to name because he’s a minor, has been charged with five counts of breaking and entering into vehicles and one count of car theft.
He was driving a Toyota Camry, one of three vehicles that fled the Southern Oaks neighborhood around 4 a.m. Monday after a string of car break-ins were reported there, according to Bluffton Police Chief Joe Manning.
A high-speed pursuit ensued minutes later, with two Bluffton police officers chasing a silver Mercedes and black Infiniti — the Camry ended up behind police — out of their jurisdiction, through Beaufort and Jasper counties and to the South Carolina-Georgia state line.
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Dashcam footage recently obtained by The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette provides new details about the chase, including exact speeds officers were traveling as they tried to keep up with suspects racing toward Savannah.
The footage indicates Bluffton officers traveled at sustained speeds of more than 100 m.p.h. — and sometimes over 120 m.p.h. — as they chased the Mercedes and Infiniti almost to the foot of the Talmadge Memorial Bridge.
Those two suspect vehicles have not been found, Nelson said Thursday morning, and Bluffton Police aren’t sure whether they, too, were stolen.
One Bluffton police cruiser tried to initiate a traffic stop at 4:06 a.m. on New Riverside Drive off May River Road, just before the traffic circle. The Mercedes and Infiniti sped through the circle, at which point another police car tried to intercept them. The ensuing high-speed pursuit lasted about 10 minutes and covered approximately 13 miles, with officers turning off their blue lights and slowing down as they neared the Georgia line on the bridge over the Back River.
The Camry — which Nelson said was behind the police cars — passed the officers moments later and continued into Savannah. The Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department said it received a report that the car crashed at approximately 4:25 a.m. near the intersection of West Boundary and Gwinnett Streets.
“We don’t have any other information to release at this time,” Savannah-Chatham Metorpolitan Police spokesperson Cpl. Hillary Nielsen said Thursday, when asked about the condition of the driver and if Savannah authorities had charged him with any crimes. “It’s an ongoing investigation.”
Bluffton police have given Savannah-area authorities descriptions of the Mercedes and Infiniti, Nelson said. In situations like this, Nelson said, Savannah authorities will notify Bluffton if the suspect vehicles are found. Bluffton will then send investigators to inspect the cars, collect evidence and take possession of them.
The Camry, Nelson said, was stolen from Southern Oaks. Dashcam footage shows the vehicle near the foot of the Talmadge Bridge as it passes officers who’ve ended the pursuit.
One of the officers reported the Camry “was behind him the entire time,” according to Nelson. “Apparently staying right on his tail throughout the entire chase,” Nelson said. “(The officer) has vocally said that.”
It’s standard protocol for the Bluffton Police Department to conduct a review in the wake of a high-speed chase, Nelson said. Officers involved in the chase are debriefed and submit statements, which are reviewed by a patrol supervisor. Command staff then reviews the entire incident to ensure department policies were followed.
“We’re in the middle of that right now,” Nelson said, referring to the command-staff review process.
According to Bluffton Police Department policy — “Emergency and Pursuit Operation of Police Vehicles” — officers must assess the weather, visibility and traffic conditions when deciding to chase suspects.
If the suspected offense is not classified as a violent felony by state law — breaking and entering into cars, for example, is not such a felony — officers must use even more discretion when initiating pursuit.
But the policy gives officers latitude when stolen vehicles or reckless driving by suspects, for example, is involved.
And the policy asks officers to make a judgment call: does the nature of the suspected crime, the need to maintain peace and order and the need to preserve evidence justify the potential risk to themselves and the public?