The 74-year-old driver Columbus police are charging in Metro Narcotics Agent Keith Slay’s fatal July 30 wreck will face three misdemeanor charges that include second-degree vehicular homicide, his attorney said.
Attorney Michael Reynolds said bonds already had been set for Alex Komendantov of Fortson, Ga., who was booked Wednesday through the Muscogee County Jail and released on bond. He will not have a preliminary hearing in Columbus Recorder’s Court, so the next step in the case will be an arraignment in Muscogee State Court, Reynolds said.
Besides misdemeanor vehicular homicide, his client will face charges of failing to yield to an emergency vehicle and making an improper lane change, Reynolds said.
The wreck happened shortly after 3 p.m. on a Tuesday when Slay, a Columbus police corporal, and Metro Agent Brad Evans, a Russell County sheriff’s deputy, were responding as a backup unit for the multi-agency drug task force, police said.
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With blue lights flashing and the siren blaring on an otherwise unmarked Ford F-150 pickup truck, they were headed north on Veterans Parkway, bypassing slower traffic, investigators said.
Reynolds said Komendantov also was northbound, trying to get to the 7550 Veterans Parkway Marvin’s Market to buy apples. But he missed his right turn into the market entrance. He was trying to make a left turn off the parkway to go back, and was moving into the center turn lane of the five-lane road when Slay’s truck collided with the driver’s side of Komendantov’s 2011 Ford Ranger, Reynolds said.
Police said Komendantov’s Ranger sideswiped the rear passenger’s side of Slay’s truck, sending the truck sliding sideways out of control. The pickup crossed the southbound lanes, vaulted over a curb and crashed into a utility pole on the driver’s side, tilting upward so the pole crushed the cab roof. Evans, 27, the right front seat passenger, survived the crash, but Slay, 53, was pronounced dead at The Medical Center.
Investigators have not released an estimate of either vehicle’s speed, nor specified where Slay was going. Reynolds said he was told Slay was to assist with an arrest, but the arrest was over and an emergency response was unwarranted.
“We know based on witness testimony that he was going in and out of traffic at a very high rate of speed,” Reynolds said of Slay.
The posted speed limit there is 45 mph.
The police report lists only one witness, Elizabeth Schroeder of Norcross, Ga., a worker’s compensation nurse who said she had just left the Hughston Clinic that day after seeing a patient.
On her way home, she found Veterans Parkway traffic so heavy she was couldn’t reach a ramp to the J.R. Allen Parkway to get to Interstate 185, so she continued north toward Williams Road.
She saw two unmarked police vehicles turn north onto the parkway from Double Churches Road, both weaving erratically, she said.
“Both of them, they were right on each other’s bumper, weaving in and out of traffic, and it was heavy, heavy traffic that day,” she said.
Both police vehicles looked black, “with little tiny blue lights at the bottom, and no lights or identification up on the top,” she said. “You could hardly tell they were police cars because the siren wasn’t that loud.”
With temperatures in the mid-90s, other motorists likely had their windows up and air conditioners on, making sirens hard to hear, she said: “It was very difficult to hear them.”
She did not see Slay’s truck collide with Komendantov’s Ranger because the crest of a hill obstructed her view. When she topped the crest, she saw Slay’s truck already sliding toward the pole.
She thought the police vehicles had been traveling 50-70 mph in thick traffic. If called to testify in the case, she said, “the only thing I can testify to is that they were driving at a high rate of speed, weaving in and out of traffic, and if they hadn’t been doing that, this would have never happened. They were really going faster than conditions warranted.”
Columbus police maintain Slay’s response was appropriate under the circumstances.
“He was responding to a call for assistance from other officers,” said Lt. Tony Danford, who heads the police motor patrol division that specializes in accident investigation. When other units call for help, responding officers typically run lights and siren, he said.
Reynolds said Komendantov’s bonds were set at $2,500 on the vehicular homicide charge, $500 for failing to yield to an emergency vehicle, and $250 for the improper lane change. With add-on fees, the total will top $4,000, Reynolds said.
Under Georgia law, second-degree homicide by vehicle means causing a death “without an intention to do so” while committing a minor traffic violation.
Asked about Komendantov’s record, Reynolds said: “That man is so squeaky clean it ain’t even funny. This is the guy that, if you asked him to give to the FOP, he would ask, ‘How much?’”
The FOP is the Fraternal Order of Police, an association representing law enforcement officers.
Here is today's earlier report:
The 74-year-old man who allegedly caused the wreck that killed Columbus Police Cpl. Keith Slay will be charged with failure to yield and possibly other misdemeanor charges, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson confirmed this morning.
Slay, 53, died July 30 when the pickup truck he was driving, with emergency lights flashing, on Veterans Parkway was forced to swerve, lost control and struck a utility pole. Russell County Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Evans, 26, a passenger in the truck, was injured and hospitalized, but has been released.
Slay and Evans were agents on the Metro Narcotics Task Force and were reportedly responding to a call with emergency lights flashing and a siren activated when the wreck occurred.
Police say Komendantov was driving a Ford Ranger pickup truck that caused Slay to swerve and lose control of his truck, leading to the fatal wreck. Both vehicles were headed north on Veterans Parkway near the Front Porch of the South.
Slay’s vehicle was passing Komendantov’s in the passing lane when the latter attempted to merge left and struck Slay’s truck, causing the officer to swerve and lose control, according to police reports. The posted speed limit in that area is 45 mph, but reports do not indicate how fast either vehicle may have been going.
Initially, no charges were filed.
Slay’s was one of three deaths the Columbus Police Department suffered this summer. Capt. Jackey Long, a 25-year veteran of the department, died in early July after having been diagnosed with cancer. Then in late August, Capt. Vince Pasko, a 31-year-veteran, was found dead in his home of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Stay with ledger-enquirer.com for more details as they become available.