Apparently it will take the wrangling of a courtroom to determine whether Columbia County deputies in June 2006 were chasing a shoplifter's vehicle when it crashed into another car, killing three people.
The results could swing the outcome of a lawsuit.
The case of Tiara Smith and Nebula McNeely is an ugly one. It's a story of a criminal newbie and a veteran thief attempting to shoplift from an Evans department store and fleeing when they were caught.
That much is known. It's also clear that Smith's SUV ran a red light on Washington Road at Bobby Jones Expressway, slamming into a car driven by Lonnie Turner, of Martinez. Turner, his mother, Margaret Patricia Branton, and the unborn child carried by Turner's wife all were killed in the crash.
Smith was convicted of multiple charges and is serving a life sentence in prison. McNeely, currently in prison because the case violated her parole for prior convictions, is awaiting trial.
Meanwhile, the Turner family is suing the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, charging that Smith ran through the intersection because she was being chased by deputies in violation of the sheriff's office pursuit policy.
The News-Times news staff tried to clear up the confusion, but met with only limited success in gaining access to records in the case. Citing the pending prosecution of McNeely, the sheriff's office won't allow the media to see the 911 dispatch logs or review recordings of police radio traffic from the incident - even though McNeely, a passenger, faces no traffic charges.
That information likely would settle the issue of whether deputies were actually chasing Smith's vehicle, or whether Smith was running because she thought she would be chased.
In any event, it seems obvious that those three innocent victims would still be alive if Smith and McNeely had not attempted to steal in the first place, and then compounded the crime by speeding through a busy intersection.
Whatever the eventual outcome of all the legal maneuvering, that's where the blame should be placed.
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