2 die after car flees police checkpoint, crashes near Summerville

Pine Ridge Fire Department crews work the scene of a double fatal crash early Thursday morning, Sept. 12, 2013, on Ridge Church Road near Summerville after the Pontiac Bonneville fled from Berkeley County Sheriff's Office deputies and S.C. Highway Patrol troopers at a traffic checkpoint on College Park Road. (STEVE SKIPTON, SOUTH CAROLINA ON FIRE/PROVIDED)

It was supposed to be a normal checkpoint inspection for two troopers and two deputies late Wednesday near Summerville.

Set up on College Park Road, they flagged down cars and examined driver’s licenses. They checked for signs of drunken driving. They looked for any suspicious behavior from motorists.

It was a procedure that authorities periodically conduct to enforce traffic laws.

But just before midnight, one car did not stop for the members of the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office and the S.C. Highway Patrol. The 1998 Pontiac Bonneville’s engine revved and sped toward them.

“A bunch of them had to jump out of the way to avoid it,” sheriff’s spokesman Dan Moon said.

The chase was on.

A deputy and a trooper followed the Pontiac at high speeds as it ran traffic signals, turned twice and barreled down a residential street near the Sangaree community. It soon flew off the pavement and crashed into two pine trees.

The pursuit lasted for about a mile.

The two Summerville residents inside, 52-year-old Gerald Washington and 50-year-old Dwayne Pierce, were killed. They joined five others who have died since May 2012 as a result of crashes during high-speed police pursuits in the tri-county area.

In every case, the suspects have been linked to other crimes.

When Washington was identified as the driver, it became apparent to the authorities why the car did not pull over, they indicated in an incident report.

Washington was wanted on two warrants from the Summerville Police Department. He’s a felon who has spent the past three decades in and out of state prisons.

Pierce had only one misdemeanor arrest to his name, for public drunkenness in June.

Because the two agencies who typically handle traffic offenses in Berkeley County were involved in the crash, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office will investigate it.

About 11:57 p.m., the car did not stop for the checkpoint near the ATP Gunshop and Range on College Park Road, just south of Highway 17A.

Maj. Jim Brady, a spokesman for the Charleston County sheriff, said the move put the deputies and troopers at risk for injury.

The Pontiac turned left onto Highway 17A and left again onto Ridge Church Road. It was going too fast to negotiate a slight curve, Brady said, when it struck the trees. Photos from the scene show the Pontiac’s front half crumpled against the pines.

Pierce died there and Washington at a hospital a short time later, according to Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury. Pierce was not wearing a seat belt.

Provided by the State Law Enforcement Division, Washington’s rap sheet depicted a lengthy criminal history.

His first conviction came in 1978 for attempted robbery. He spent time behind bars for criminal conspiracy and second-degree burglary in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In 1986 Washington was sentenced to nine years in prison for indecent exposure, filing a false police report, burglary and grand larceny.

Summerville police arrested him again in 1993 on drug-dealing charges. He was sent back for another two years at Lieber Correctional Institution in Ridgeville.

Because of a 1998 conviction for burglary, he spent most of the next decade behind bars.

His arrests picked up again in 2006, when North Charleston police charged him with malicious injury to personal property.

Since then Washington was arrested on drug charges, but most of his convictions stemmed from traffic offenses. By 2009 he had his third conviction for driving with a suspended license.

Even though his privileges had been revoked, he continued to drive. Summerville police nabbed him again last year for being a habitual traffic violator, an offense for which one of the warrants had been issued. The other was on a charge of assault and battery.

He was scheduled to serve probation for that offense until March.

When authorities ran the license plate on the Pontiac that Washington was driving Wednesday, they found that it belonged to a woman in Charleston. The car’s identification number also wasn’t in their files.

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.