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'They just didn't want to listen': Father questions police actions after fatal crash - .Crime & Controversy - bnd.com
EAST ST. LOUIS -- The last moments in car thief Jamaal Reed's short life played out behind the wheel of a stolen 2010 Camaro SS speeding at 118 mph with cops somewhere behind.
But how far behind were they? Were they close enough about 9:25 p.m. Feb. 10 to observe the 400-horsepower car flip over a retaining wall on a curve in the eastbound lane of the Martin Luther King Bridge and disappear over the side? And if they did see it, did they fail to report the crash, perhaps out of concern they would be disciplined for ignoring a radioed order to call off the pursuit because of the danger of a high speed chase?
These were questions raised just hours after the crash by Lamont Reed of East St. Louis, the father of Jamaal Reed who died on impact with the ground.
A cross and debris from the car Jamaal Reed stole and crashed in East St. Louis. - Steve Nagy/BND
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Passenger Kim Smith, then 25, was not discovered strapped in the mangled Camaro until just before midnight, 2 1/2 hours after the sports car flew off the bridge.
An Ameren repairman, searching for the cause of a power outage, discovered the wreckage when he checked a heavily damaged power pole just off Collinsville Avenue beside the bridge ramp. The Camaro struck the pole. Smith was taken to a St. Louis hospital.
Thursday, St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly, in response to questions from the News-Democrat, said in a written statement: "Several weeks ago my office requested that the Illinois State Police review this incident. I'd like to quickly get some clarity for everyone involved."
East St. Louis Police Chief Ranadore Foggs said in a written statement Thursday that his department and the Illinois State Police had investigated and determined "no inappropriate action was found on the part of any police agency."
But Foggs would not provide copies of his department's radio logs from the time the stolen car was first spotted until his officers said they had lost sight of it. The names of the officers involved in the chase were not listed in police reports.
Lamont Reed said that just hours after the crash he tried unsuccessfully to get the city police department to investigate why his son and Smith had lain for hours at the wreck site.
Reed said he then began his own investigation and spoke with Smith and city resident Marcus Murray, who came forth a few days later and said he witnessed parts of the police chase. Reed said he then went to the lead crash investigator, Detective Marion Riddle. Reed said Riddle would not accept information about how to contact Murray but had talked with Smith.
Smith said she was still groggy from the crash and anesthesia from an operation on her broken arm when Riddle talked with her. She said he asked her only how long she had known Jamaal Reed and said nothing about how the crash occurred. Riddle could not be reached for comment.
"I knew right away something was really screwy about this," Lamont Reed said. "They just didn't want to listen to what I wanted to tell them."
While Jamaal Reed was a car thief known to police with convictions in Illinois and Missouri, the Camaro, which carried temporary plates from another vehicle, was not reported stolen until the day after the crash. That's when a Columbia car dealer confirmed it was missing.
"They shouldn't have been chasing him. It was just a speeding case," Reed said.
Reed said he received an unsettling telephone call March 18 from Capt. Lenzie Stewart, then East St. Louis' police chief. Reed played the voicemail message for a reporter. After identifying himself, Stewart said Illinois State Police were supposed to investigate but didn't want to cooperate. Stewart said there were problems with the investigation, but didn't specify what.
There was a question of jurisdiction from the outset. If the car flew off the bridge, it was a state police case. If not, it would be investigated by city police.
A state police accident reconstructionist at first ruled that while the car ended up behind 348 Collinsville Ave., it hadn't come off the bridge. But after city police noticed large, red paint scrape marks on the inside of the bridge retaining wall directly above the wreckage, it became obvious that the car must have come off the bridge ramp. The state police accident expert then changed his report. Then both agencies claimed to have investigated, according to police reports.
Lamont Reed asked how the police officers in the cars that had chased his son could drive past the retaining wall, even at night, and not notice large, red scrapes from the Camaro's paint, and deduce that the car went over the side.
But if the state police were part of the investigation, they were not called to a St. Clair County coroner's inquest April 27, 11 weeks after the crash. Instead of someone from the state police, Deputy Coroner Curt Schildknecht called a single witness -- Riddle.
Riddle said an FBI agent driving on the bridge happened to see the Camaro going west at a high speed, according to a copy of the inquest transcript.
Riddle then testified "units pursued" the Camaro but stopped "after the vehicle was going so fast." He then said the Camaro turned around in St. Louis, which is where Murray told the BND he first spotted the Camaro being chased by two police cars.
Although Riddle said the police cars had discontinued the chase on the westbound part of the bridge, in the next sentence he stated, "as the vehicle came back eastbound (on the bridge) back to Illinois, they lost sight of the vehicle because of its rate of speed."
Lamont Reed, who attended the inquest, said Riddle's testimony was confusing but was not challenged by any of the six members of the coroner's jury, who are allowed to ask questions. They returned a verdict of accidental death.
Foggs did not respond to written questions about whether the police chase cars activated grill video cameras or were equipped with a device under the hood that records speed. He also did not answer whether his investigators contacted the Illinois Department of Transportation to find out if they had a video of the chase taken by any of the several cameras on both lanes of the bridge used for traffic management. An IDOT spokesman said whatever images from Feb. 10 might have been recorded would have been erased by now.
Lamont Reed said that after being ignored by city police, he finally called the state's attorney's office and was given a meeting May 13 with Assistant State's Attorney Jim Piper. Reed said he brought Smith, who recounted her claim a police car was right behind the Camaro seconds before it crashed.
Reed said Piper set up a meeting with Capt. Jim Morrissey of the state police in June. Smith said she was interviewed and again told the same story.
Thursday, Morrissey said: "I guess the dad had some issues about the way East St. Louis was handling it. There were a couple of things the St. Clair County state's attorney's office asked us do for them. We're waiting on two things to finish up. Some records that we have requested."
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