Joseph and Kevin Andrews could never have thought they would die the way they did — hit head-on in broad daylight by a Chevy Malibu blasting down I-10 the wrong way. It seems a most improbable way to go, even more so when you realize the car that hit them was being chased by a Baldwin County Sheriff’s Deputy also driving the wrong way on I-10.
The accident was a terrible one and led the April Fool’s Day newscasts and shut down both lanes of I-10 for hours. The driver and two passengers in the Malibu trying so hard to evade that tenacious deputy were all burned to a crisp after the collision. Their car rolled over the guardrail and burst into flames. Even as I write this a week later, only one of those passengers has been identified — a 34-year-old woman from Texas named Crystal Lee Moradie.
Kevin Andrews’ 54 years on Earth ended there on I-10, and 81-year-old Joseph Andrews’ life ended in a Mobile hospital the next day. The two — from Milton, Florida, and St. Simons Island, Georgia, respectively — had been taking a father-son trip together.
We really don’t know anything yet about the three who died in the other car. Moradie’s name, age and hometown match those of a woman who shows up in Bexar County, Texas, jail records as having been arrested for drug possession on March 15, and who was out on a $10,000 bond, but there’s no confirmation yet from authorities that the woman who died on I-10 is the same person.
If that had anything to do with why the three ran when an unnamed deputy tried to pull them over on I-10 near mile marker 49, we may never know. Baldwin County Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack told media the car had been “swerving,” which caused the deputy to take action. What ensued was a car chase outrageous enough for a “Smokey and the Bandit” movie, except this ended with horrible tragedy.
According to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, which investigated the wreck, the Malibu accelerated and the deputy gave chase, heading east on I-10. At the Wilcox exit, the driver got off the interstate, then got back on heading west. The Malibu left the interstate again at the Baldwin Beach Express, then turned around and got back on westbound I-10 once again. All the while, the deputy gave chase at very high rates of speed in his unmarked, black SUV.
Eventually, the driver made a U-turn in the middle of westbound I-10 and started hurtling back east into incoming traffic. The deputy did likewise, continuing to chase him at what witnesses guessed was at least 60 to 70 mph. The Malibu was leaving the deputy behind at the point the collision took place, which could indicate he finally pulled back.
People who were on I-10 at that time have recalled the terror of having not one, but two vehicles fly by going the wrong way. Those people are lucky they can tell that story. Anyone who’s spent any time driving on interstates these days knows normal speeds are in excess of 80 mph. Try going 70 and you’ll be a clog on the roadway. Imagine driving 85 mph and another car coming at you almost as fast. It’s doubtful most of us would have the reflexes and mental quickness required to recognize what was happening, much less react safely.
Of course, there will be an investigation into this tragedy, but standing on the roadside in the aftermath, Mack was already striking a defensive posture. Interviewed by WALA-TV, he emphasized this accident and these deaths were all the fault of the people running from the police.
“Keep in mind, these people ran from us,” he said with emphasis. “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.”
Hoss appears to have already made up his mind about whose fault the accident was even before the first bit of investigation was made. So now we’ll wait for the S.O.’s internal investigation and for Mack to forward the results to the district attorney. If he’s already decided the bad guys were at fault, it’s probably an easy guess how things will come out. Hopefully there will be an independent agency that conducts a review, because this deserves a serious look.
If the descriptions of the chase released by ALEA and eyewitness accounts are accurate, it would be hard to explain how several of Baldwin County’s standard operating procedures for vehicle chases were not violated in this deadly incident.
The sheriff department’s own policy on pursuit driving indicates, “it is the intent to restrict motor vehicle pursuits to those situations and circumstance in which the immediate apprehension of the violator outweighs the hazards generated to deputies, the public or the occupant[s] of the vehicle being pursued … 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.”
In plain English, that simply says if chasing someone is creating danger for yourself or others, deputy, then back off and let them go. Call in the tag, the make and model and wait for them to be arrested at the next Stuckey’s. If flying down I-10 in the right direction wasn’t dangerous enough, certainly driving the wrong way down the interstate certainly should set off the “unreasonable danger” warnings.
The sheriff’s policy also states unmarked vehicles should not be used to chase traffic offenders or misdemeanor suspects. It also goes on to say the safety of the public should always outweigh pursuit, especially if the violation was a misdemeanor. Swerving wouldn’t seem reason enough to suspend any of these rules.
Mack’s deputies engaged in 64 pursuits last year, which is a rate of one every six days. One would hope with that much experience chasing cars, the standard operating procedures would be fresh in everyone’s minds. But for whatever reason, Alabama is particularly dangerous when it comes to people getting killed during police pursuits.
A 2017 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed that for a 10-year period, from 1996-2005, Alabama was the deadliest state in the nation for police chases. We were 121 percent above the national average and 20 percent higher than Arizona, the second-deadliest state. This episode doesn’t seem likely to help those averages.
While ultimately it is the bad decisions made by the person behind the wheel of that Malibu that cost the lives of the Andrews family members, as well as the driver and passengers in the speeding car, you can’t help but wonder if they would all still be alive if procedure had simply been followed.
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