PITTSBURGH (AP) — A Pennsylvania man who led police on a chase that ended with a fiery crash that killed three people in another car was likely driving more than 100 mph and had a suspended license, police said in a criminal complaint filed Friday.
Demetrius Coleman, 22, of Pittsburgh, is charged with criminal homicide, vehicular homicide, and aggravated assault with a vehicle among other charges in the Thanksgiving afternoon crash on a busy highway about 10 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. He remained in UPMC Mercy hospital in police custody Friday and doesn’t have an attorney listed in court records.
Coleman was pulled over by East McKeesport police about 2:30 p.m. Thursday for making an illegal turn, then sped away when officers learned he was wanted for violating his probation for a felony charge of possessing with intent to deliver drugs, the complaint said. Specifics on the drug charge weren’t immediately available Friday because it was a court holiday.
Two adults and a toddler in the car Coleman hit at the intersection of U.S. Route 30 and state Route 48 were killed when it burst into flames. The crash scene, in North Versailles, was about 2 miles away from the initial traffic stop.
Coleman sped away from the convenience store parking lot where he was pulled over once officers turned up the drug warrant while checking his identification, the complaint said.
Online court records show Coleman was on probation for a 2012 drug possession case when he was charged with drug possession with intent to deliver in March. He was sentenced to jail, but then paroled and had his probation on the former case extended.
Accident reconstruction experts and other investigators on Friday were still piecing together the crash in which a second vehicle was also struck by Coleman’s. Three women in that SUV were injured, but survived, police said. A female passenger in Coleman’s vehicle broke her wrist, but was expected to survive.
Witnesses told reporters on Thursday the chase appeared to reach speeds at least double the 40 mph speed limit on Route 30, and Friday’s criminal complaint more than confirmed that.
North Versailles Officer Norman Locke, one of the officers chasing Coleman, “at one point estimated the vehicle as exceeding 100 mph and he was not gaining on the vehicle at all,” the criminal complaint said.
As Locke crested a hill, he could see the roof of Coleman’s vehicle weaving in and out of traffic and approaching the intersection, where the light was red, the complaint said.
That’s when Locke saw a “large fireball and the telephone pole was immediately sheared in half and flipped over,” the complaint said. Police used a vehicle to push Coleman’s vehicle away from the burning vehicle, where a man was found lying outside, dead, with the woman and child inside the burning wreckage.
The county medical examiner has yet to release the names of the victims.
Paul Trammel, who lives nearby and rushed to the scene when he heard the crash, said police “should have backed off” because “they would have eventually gotten the guy sooner or later. … They had the guy’s license plate.”
But county homicide Detective Scott Scherer blamed Coleman for speeding away from the parking lot “with disregard to everything he does. He doesn’t look, doing 30 or 40 mph out of the parking lot.”
It wasn’t immediately clear if the vehicle Coleman was driving was registered to him or someone else.
East McKeesport Officer Scott Lowden made the initial traffic stop, according to the complaint. Lowden’s chief, Russell Stroschein, said the 17-year veteran has been placed on administrative leave, which is common in police incidents that result in fatalities.