Police chase ends with possible drowning in lake
by James Phillips
Jun 15, 2012 | 6169 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Richard Dobbins, of ISR Group, speaks with Alabama Marine Police Officer John Williams while operating a small submarine Thursday afternoon during the search for a possible drowning victim on Smith Lake. Photo by: James Phillips
Richard Dobbins, of ISR Group, speaks with Alabama Marine Police Officer John Williams while operating a small submarine Thursday afternoon during the search for a possible drowning victim on Smith Lake. Photo by: James Phillips
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SMITH LAKE — A suspect who led area police on an hour-long pursuit early Thursday morning is missing and may have drowned after fleeing his vehicle and diving into Lewis Smith Lake.

Jasper Police Chief Connie Cooner Rowe said the suspect’s name is not being released, pending family notification. The subject was identified as a white male.

The incident began around 12:50 a.m. Thursday when a Jasper police officer attempted to stop a vehicle near the intersection of U.S. 78 and Industrial Boulevard. The driver of the vehicle did not stop and eluded police throughout Walker County for almost an hour. Members of the Walker County Sheriff’s Office and the Sumiton Police Department joined Jasper police during the pursuit, Rowe said. The chase ended at Lotawata Drive, which dead ends at Smith Lake. Rowe said the driver of the vehicle exited the vehicle and dove into the lake as an apparent attempt to continue eluding police.

“Officers were able to use lights and had visual contact with the suspect for a period of time, but they lost sight of him,” Rowe said.

Alabama Marine Police Officer John Williams said it is believed the suspect was attempting to swim across the lake to a boat dock on the other side.

“I just don’t think he would have been able to swim that far,” Williams said.

A neighbor offered Jasper officers a boat and helped them patrol the lake early Thursday, Rowe said.

“They drove around the lake and there was no evidence the suspect had left the water,” she said.

Three passengers inside the vehicle were taken into custody by Jasper police. Brandi Burton, 33, of Carbon Hill and Jackie Ray Darty, 47, of Jasper were arrested due to warrants for failure to appear in Jasper Municipal Court.

Krystin H. Davis, 18, of Jasper was arrested and charged with possession of drug paraphernalia.

Members of the Smith Lake Task Force, the Alabama Marine Police and a Tennessee-based company specializing in unmanned technologies spent several hours Thursday searching the lake for the suspect’s body.

ISR Group, from Savannah, Tenn., brought two remotely operated vehicles (ROV) to aid in Thursday’s search. The ROVs were able to dive 200 feet and used video technology to scan underwater.

Richard Dobbins, director of business development for ISR Group, said his parents are Smith Lake residents, and introduced him to members of the Smith Lake Task Force, which is made up of police from Walker, Winston and Cullman counties.

“We offered our services, because we wanted to help and we wanted to test our ROVs in deep water,” Dobbins said. “We were glad to help, and we expect we’ll be back on Smith Lake in the future if we’re needed.”

Smith Lake is a difficult place to search, Dobbins said.

“Where they think he went under is very deep,” he said. “It is 250 feet. We were hovering around 200 feet and were in the tops of trees. There is no equipment that can go down there and search through those trees.”

Dobbins said the Smith Lake Task Force was an impressive group.

“These guys know what they are doing,” he said. “The police in this area do a great job. We worked well with the Alabama Marine Police and the Walker and Winston County sheriff’s offices.”

After not finding the suspect’s body, Williams said the search was halted around 5:30 p.m. Williams expected to continue to search the lake’s surface and shoreline today.