A female soldier stationed at Fort Benning died from injuries sustained in a three-vehicle accident on Victory Drive Thursday morning after the Chevrolet automobile she was driving was struck by a pickup truck reported stolen earlier in Columbus.
Columbus police located the 17-year-old driver of the pickup after he fled on foot and arrested him after the three-vehicle accident that also involved a Muscogee County School District truck, said Columbus police Lt. Bruce Whitehead. His identity was withheld pending filing of charges.
Muscogee County Coroner Bill Thrower confirmed the death, even though he said someone else pronounced the woman dead at The Medical Center. But neither he nor a Fort Benning public affairs officer could release the identity of the woman, saying next of kin had not been notified early Thursday afternoon.
Whitehead said he didn't know the identity of the pickup driver, but that he was taken to the Public Safety Center for questioning.
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Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren said police pursued the pickup truck from the East Highland area near 14th Avenue and 26th Street to Victory Drive.
When the pursuit reached Victory Drive and Fort Benning Road, Boren said police broke off the chase at the direction of supervisors for safety reasons. But officers continued out Victory Drive at regular speed and after they passed the Colony Inn, 4300 Victory Drive, they observed that there had been a wreck and stopped to provide assistance.
"Citizens pointed in the direction the man (pickup driver) had run," said Boren. "Officers went to a nearby apartment complex where they found him. He had laid down."
Boren said the young driver was questioned there and later was taken downtown for further questioning. Boren said the youth will face multiple charges that were expected to be filed later Thursday. Then he will be taken to the Muscogee County Jail.
The pickup truck had been stolen near the intersection of 26th Street and Hamilton Road, several blocks from where police spotted the vehicle around 10 a.m. and began the chase, Boren said.
Columbus police Lt. Bruce Whitehead said investigators believe the pickup driver "tried to turn onto Engineer Drive and was going too fast to make the turn. He started heading eastbound in the westbound lane. She (female soldier) swerved to the right to avoid getting struck. The left front of the pickup hit her on the left side of her car about the driver's doorand went down the side of the car. The truck burst into flames upon impact. It spun him around. He came around and ended up westbound in the westbound lane.
The woman spun around and was struck in the right passenger door with the left front of a Muscogee County School District van, an Econoline van. The right rear corner of her car struck the left side of the van. She wound up heading eastbound in the westbound lane. We called The Medical Center and they said she had died."
The Columbus Police Department's motor vehicle pursuit policy provides that a motor vehicle pursuit is justified only when the necessity of immediate apprehension outweighs the level of danger created by the pursuit. Such a pursuit is an active attempt by a law enforcement officer operating a motor vehicle and utilizing all emergency equipment to apprehend one or more occupants of another moving vehicle, when the driver of the fleeing vehicle is aware of that attempt and is resisting apprehension by maintaining or increasing his speed, ignoring the officer or attempting to elude the officer.