If your father and brother were driving on a trip and somewhere along the way, in a place called Baldwin County, Alabama, they died after being hit head-on by a car that was chased the wrong way down I-10 by a sheriff’s deputy, you’d want answers.
If you were a family member of one of the three people in the car that killed that father and son, and your child was incinerated in that fiery crash, you’d want to know as much as possible about how this all came to pass.
If your son was driving down I-10 in a place called Baldwin County, Alabama, and had an accident in which his car left the roadway, and somehow a short time later he was shot five times with a high-powered rifle by sheriff’s deputies because they thought the fanny pack he was holding was a weapon, you’d want answers.
But you wouldn’t get many. Welcome to Baldwin.
Roughly 10 months have passed since father and son Joseph L. Andrews, 81, and Kevin J. Andrews, 54, were killed when the Chevy Malibu driven by Dominic Scotti Garcia Jr., 26, smashed into them while being chased by a Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) deputy against traffic on the interstate. But the sheriff’s office has released almost zero information about the accident since just after it happened.
The collision also killed Payton Leigh Northcutt, 25, and Crystal Lee Moradie, 34. The three traveling in the Malibu were all burned beyond recognition and it took days to identify them. Those five deaths started with that Malibu swerving in traffic, according to Baldwin County Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack.
Following the wreck, Mack told the public his deputy gave chase — a chase that exited and re-entered I-10 twice, and ended when Garcia made a U-turn on the interstate and started driving toward oncoming traffic. According to eyewitnesses, the deputy was still pursuing Garcia even as they drove the wrong way down I-10.
At the time of this tragedy, Mack told media there would be an investigation and the results would be turned over to the District Attorney’s (DA) office. But first he started covering his butt by telling FOX 10, “Keep in mind, these people ran from us. So, they’re the ones that caused all this and we were the ones that were trying to render the situation safe in that. As to why they were running and everything, and as to the continued pursuit, those are all things that we do look at in the investigation and we will review.”
And that’s pretty much the last thing he said about this tragedy until last week when we asked what was happening with this investigation nearly a year later. Our timing must have been good, because Mack said it just so happens the case will finally go before the grand jury this month.
But he didn’t explain why it’s taken nearly a year to get there, why the case hadn’t been turned over to previous grand juries or offer any more insight into Garcia and the others in his car. Naturally, the DA’s office also refused to say anything, so four different families, and the public all continue to sit in limbo while something (possibly?) happens.
It’s hard to read the BCSO’s policy on pursuits and not at least feel a little like this deputy may have broken just about all of the major rules put in place so minor traffic infractions don’t escalate into explosive crashes. “When it becomes apparent that the immediacy of apprehension is outweighed by a clear and unreasonable danger to the deputy and others, the pursuit should be abandoned,” it reads. Driving into oncoming interstate traffic sounds a lot like “clear and unreasonable danger” to me. But I wonder if we’ll ever know whether any of that was even examined, as Mack appears to loathe actually answering to the public. But that’s just kind of the way he does things.
For instance, Mack still refuses to release body camera footage from 2017 when Jonathan Victor was blown away on the side of the road after his car wrecked on I-10. Victor’s car left the road and ended up almost in the woods, but instead of being helped by first responders, Victor ended up being shot several times with a high-powered rifle, ending the Louisiana man’s life.
When the deputy who shot Victor was cleared of wrongdoing, Mack held a press conference in which he played selected segments of video in the moments leading up to Victor’s death. By the time the video starts, though, deputies are already in a defensive position far away from the car and begin screaming at Victor the second he opens the car door. He gets out holding a cloth item, kind of staggering slowly toward deputies and raising the cloth in his hand. They command him to stop and drop it, and then he’s hit with a burst of rifle fire. For holding a fanny pack.
I get that officers may have felt in danger and that the cloth could have concealed a handgun, but the question no one will answer is how things went from helping a hurt motorist to shooting him for holding a fanny pack. Who decided Victor was a threat and not just a hurt motorist? The most we’ve gotten is that first responders asked the man who’d just been in a high-speed accident to show his hands and he didn’t respond.
We made an open records request for all the body cam footage, but were denied almost reflexively. When body cam footage proves officers acted properly, law enforcement agencies practically blow a gasket making it public; otherwise, you can expect a fight.
We then sued for the footage, but in the Baldwin County Kangaroo Courthouse the result was a foregone conclusion. Mack was able to make some silly claim his office didn’t have the footage and we’d asked the wrong agency, so the judge denied our request on this rather inventive technicality that really had nothing to do with whether the footage is a public record or not. Now the matter is before the Alabama Supreme Court, but I’m not holding my breath.
Mack appears to feel that even though the investigation into Victor’s death has been closed for nearly two years, and the deputy cleared by the grand jury, the body camera footage should never be seen. Why not? What’s he hiding? Now Victor’s family is suing BCSO as well, so I’m sure Mack’s really hunkering down.
These tragic incidents are truly troubling, not only because they support what appear to be massive and deadly mistakes by Mack’s deputies, but also because both he and the rest of the Baldwin justice system seem completely supportive of those mistakes.
Not much I see in the Baldwin County law enforcement/justice system gives me faith these days. Judges act more like consigliere than protectors of the law. The sheriff clearly doesn’t feel anyone deserves an explanation of his deputies’ actions, regardless of who gets killed, and the DA’s office sits by and watches it all go down.
None of that gives me a good feeling driving down I-10.
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