Fiery Death Blamed on Chase of Shoplifters
HOUSTON (CN) - An innocent teenager died because Baytown police put down a spike strip at a busy intersection to try to catch a shoplifter, who then caused the fiery wreck, the late teen's parents claim in court.
Parents of the late Shawn Williams Jr. sued the City of Baytown and Shannon Joe Chauncey in Harris County Court.
Shay Hollingshead, who was injured in the wreck that killed Shawn, also sued.
"On October 19, 2012 17-year-old Shay Hollingshead was driving home from work with his friend and coworker, 16-year-old Shawn Williams Jr.," the complaint states.
"A few minutes past 10:00 p.m. Shay's Ford Focus was struck by another vehicle, causing Shay's car to immediately burst into flames."
Defendant Chauncey was driving the truck that hit them.
Chauncey, 43, of Crosby, and his girlfriend, Jennifer Rene Jenkins, 35, of Highlands, had been seen earlier that evening stealing pillows and a comforter from a Sears at the San Jacinto Mall, according to the complaint.
Jenkins is not a party to the complaint.
"The accused then proceeded to the Academy sporting goods store located on Garth Road," the complaint states. "Apparently, the accused's shoplifting led to 'multiple special operations detectives' to converge and conduct surveillance.
"During the sting operation, the accused were viewed shoplifting additional merchandise before making their way to the Academy parking lot."
After the fatal crash, Baytown police said in a statement that detectives had seen Chauncey's unoccupied truck in the Academy parking lot.
"Jenkins was seen placing merchandise inside of a bag," the police said in the statement. "Chauncey walked out of the store empty-handed and entered the Ford truck before pulling it to the front of the store to pick up Jenkins. As Jenkins exited the store with unpaid for merchandise, detectives blocked the Ford from leaving with their vehicles. As detectives exited their vehicles to make arrests, Chauncey forcefully backed into a police vehicle, causing damage and narrowly missing an officer before speeding out of the parking lot."
Baytown police said the ensuing chase lasted for 2½ miles.
The complaint describes how the chase ended: "As Baytown conducted the high-speed chase-moving southbound on Garth Road at 10 p.m., just after a football game and reaching speeds of 90 mph - a decision was made for an officer to place a 'spike strip' directly in the path of the accused.
"The officer laid the spike strip at the intersection of Garth Rd. and Rollingbrook Dr. Baytown was aware of the danger the spike strip creates when traversed at a high rate of speed - officers were advised to 'back off because [Officer Lloyd] had deployed the spike strip. ...
"Witnesses describe a scene in which the accused had a clear unimpeded path through the intersection, but for the spike strip causing their F-150 Ford pickup to careen out of control and into Shay's idling Ford Focus." (Brackets in complaint.)
Before Chauncey hit the spikes, he avoided several collisions, the complaint states.
"Based on the 'dash-cam' Baytown released to the media shortly after the incident, it is apparent that the accused would not have collided with Shay's Ford Focus absent the 'deploy[ment]' of the spike strip," according to the complaint.
"Immediately after rolling over the spike strip, the Accused slammed into Shay's Focus, which erupted in a ball of fire. ...
"The accused fled on foot and were apprehended. Shay was pulled from the burning wreckage. Shawn was unaccounted for and first responders were unaware of his existence until well after the collision. Once identified, Shawn was declared dead at the scene. Shay suffered severe injuries and was airlifted to Memorial Hermann." (Brackets in complaint.)
The Williams' attorney Joshua Davis told Courthouse News that Chauncey and Jenkins should have been arrested in the Academy parking lot.
"I've got a 5-year-old daughter and it just seems like such an unnecessary occurrence, just with the whole thing how it happened," Davis said in an interview.
"They were followed around in the stores, they had been ID'd by multiple officers and yet somehow they couldn't just be arrested when they walked out of the store. They were allowed to get in their vehicle and drive away, and then that the officers gave chase. And their excuse is that, 'Well they hit a police officer's vehicle as they left the parking lot.' I just don't think that's enough. I don't think that's enough to put so many people at risk."
Chauncey was charged with two felonies: evading arrest resulting in death and evading arrest resulting in serious bodily injury, according to Baytown police.
Jenkins was charged with misdemeanor evading, theft and methamphetamine possession, police said.
The Williams and Hollingshead families seek punitive damages for gross negligence, and misuse of tangible property, relating to Baytown's use of the spike strips.
The Williamses also want funeral expenses.