GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes is setting the records straight. In a 10-page news release sent out Thursday, he went over the details of a crash that killed five people in Greensboro last month.
“Going forward, we will closely examine our Agency’s policies,” Barnes said in the press release. “This is not ‘lip service.’ In fact, to start that process, I convened a meeting yesterday afternoon of more than 20 of my top Command Staff members and District Supervisors including the Chief Deputy, the Major over my Patrol Bureau, and the Captains and Lieutenants supervising patrol operations. We are examining our pursuit policies and training protocols and will carefully consider whether improvement can be made. You have my word on that.”
A lawyer representing the families of the victims, Stephanie Warshauer and Allie Bolick, sent us this statement in response.
"We are pleased that the Guilford County Sheriff has announced he is starting the process for a complete review of the Guilford County chase policy," said Drew Brown, the families' attorney. "We know the Sheriff and his team are motivated to keep our citizens safe—as is the Greensboro Police Department. We look forward to hearing the positive results at the conclusion of the process."
But the sheriff also defended the existing policy, and Deputy C. Lineback's actions the night of the crash. Barnes said choosing not to pursue criminals will only lead to more crime.
Barnes presented a timeline of what led up to the deadly crash on September 30.
It started when a deputy was driving south on Battleground Avenue in the Summerfield area, toward Greensboro. He saw a suspicious vehicle, typed in the license plate number, and saw that it had been reported stolen.
The deputy contacted a 911 dispatcher to confirm the car was stolen. Barnes says any rumors that the car had not actually been stolen are false.
The Greensboro Police Department had reported the car was stolen several weeks ago. Greensboro police also tried to pull the vehicle over during a traffic stop on September 16.
The deputy followed the suspect driving the stolen vehicle into the Battleground North Apartments parking lot. Barnes says he activated his blue lights and sirens at exactly 15 seconds past 11:23 p.m.
Nine seconds later, both cars made a u-turn and re-entered Battleground Avenue. The crash happened just over a minute later; the chase lasting just one minute and 15 seconds from start to finish.
Barnes says dashcam video shows traffic on Battleground Avenue was light during the entire 1.8-mile chase, and the deputy passed a total of five vehicles.
Barnes confirmed his deputy hit 128 miles an hour during that pursuit but slowed down to 106 miles an hour before the crash, all while the sheriff says the suspect went much faster.
"This shows that our deputy reduced his speed by 22 mph before the accident occurred," Barnes wrote in the release. "The dash camera display shows Deputy Lineback had his break pedal pressed for several seconds before the collision occurred between the suspect's car and Ms. Warshauer's. All of this demonstrates Deputy Lineback had already made the decision to slow his speed as he entered the more highly-traveled portion of north Battleground Avenue."
Brown told FOX8 earlier this week that the deputy hitting that speed was "totally over the line."
"The suspect was going to continue to run at high speed no matter what our Deputy did," Barnes said in response.
The victims' families hoped to see a change in the policy that justified the deputy's decision to follow the stolen car, bringing the sheriff's office policy in line with the Greensboro Police Department's.
Barnes says the big difference between the policies is that Greensboro police authorize pursuits based on certain offenses, like if the occupants has committed or is wanted for certain crimes. But the Greensboro police policy doesn't include starting a pursuit for a stolen car and that's where the victims' families raised an issue.
"We have reached out to other law enforcement agencies and determined that the pursuit policy of the Sheriff's Office is consistent with that of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies in the State," Barnes wrote.
"Choosing not to pursue vehicles only emboldens criminals to commit more crimes," Barnes added. "While some have argued that not pursuing criminals would be safer in some circumstances, the opposite, in my opinion, is equally or more true. In other words, choosing not to pursue criminals lets criminals know that they can commit further crimes with less likelihood they will be caught. This leads to more crime which is a far greater threat to the personal safety of the law-abiding citizens of Guilford County."
After the crash, Barnes says they learned more about the suspect and stolen vehicle's role in other crimes.
The suspected driver was a convicted felon, with a prior conviction for felony speeding to elude police and he had been charged with 96 other crimes.
"The criminal operator or operators of this car were clearly going to continue on this crime spread and path of lawlessness until they were caught," Barnes said.
The car was also used as a getaway vehicle in a robbery from a CVS in Eden on September 28, just two days before the fatal crash.
Stephanie's father, Phil Warshauer, sent FOX8 this statement in response to the sheriff's letter.
"I find it highly disrespectful to the lives of Allie and Stephanie, and all residents of Greensboro, that potential for more theft of merchandise at CVS was worth the extreme risk that led to the deaths of our precious daughters," he wrote.
Allie's family did not wish to provide any further comment.
Barnes said the deputy's actions and the chase itself in no way led to their daughters' deaths.
"This tragic accident on September 30, 2017 was caused by the criminally reckless actions of the suspects and only the suspect," he said.
The deputy recorded everything that happened on a dash camera, but North Carolina law does not allow the sheriff's office to release that footage to the public.
Brown has reviewed the video, and the sheriff said the offer is extended to the victims' families when they are ready.