The man who authorities say drove his car straight at a police officer in rural Oakland County to kill him on Thanksgiving morning had earlier claimed he was God and demanded the release of one of his followers from jail, Lapeer County authorities said Friday.
Just before midnight, the man walked into the Lapeer County Jail where a lobby microphone heard him “say he was God and he was here to bring out one of his sons — his followers,” Lapeer County Sheriff Scott McKenna said.
What followed was likely the strangest police chase ever for Lapeer — multiple traffic stops, shouted talk through closed car windows, a suicide threat to drive at high speed into a tree, calls by the driver to 911 insisting that “we don’t follow your laws,” and a convoy of police cruisers following a battered blue car that was stopping at signs, using turn signals to change lanes and seemingly observing all traffic laws, McKenna said at a news conference Friday afternoon.
The police chase continued for 22 miles and, including stops, roughly a half hour — with pursuing cops “trying everything to de-escalate this” and avoid a tragic ending, McKenna said at the news conference, which was carried on WDIV-TV's Facebook page.
The chase ended in Oakland County’s Brandon Township, where Oakland Deputy Eric Overall — alerted by police radio calls — placed stop sticks on the highway to disable the fleeing suspect's vehicle, then stood well off the roadway. Yet Overall was struck when the suspect intentionally swerved to hit him, McKenna said.
McKenna gave this further account: On a squad car's dash-cam video, as the fleeing car nears the stop sticks, “you see the suspect tap his brakes and make an almost 90-degree turn to strike and kill Deputy Overall. . . I’ll say it one more time — that was a deliberate act."
McKenna went on: “The scary part of all this is that this guy came to us,” showing up at the jail’s lobby at 11:40 p.m. Wednesday to voice delusional statements, then going back to his car and calling 911 with similar statements. He even drove next door to the grounds of a state prison — Thumb Correctional Facility — where he said the same kinds of things to an exiting officer before driving back to the jail's parking lot, where he was confronted by county officers who'd been alerted by a 911 dispatcher.
When the man refused to get out of his car and instead drove off, those officers followed in their squad cars, yet driving without flashing lights and sirens, hoping to subdue the cautious driving, odd-talking man. He had yelled, "This isn’t a jail" because he "had a claim on this land.”
Next, after driving a short distance, the man pulled over and stopped, shouting at the deputies through his closed car windows that he was going to unbuckle his seat belt and would commit suicide by driving into a tree.
He then drove off at moderate speed and entered westbound I-69 heading toward Flint, soon turning south on M-15, driving through Genesee County where a Metamora police officer joined the chase. He finally entered Oakland County, apparently spotting Overall's squad car and then steering toward the standing deputy with deadly impact.
“I’m proud of everyone involved in this. Everyone did a fantastic job — with a horrible result. This was hard on everybody,” McKenna said, his voice breaking.
The pursuing officers refrained from aggressive tactics, such as attempting to use their vehicles to "box in" the fleeing car and force it to crash, McKenna said.
"If you want to know why, ask some legislators," he said, alluding to recent changes in state law that make it more difficult for police to justify aggressive chases. These came after complaints and lawsuits about pursuits ending in deaths, not only to those fleeing but sometimes to innocent drivers struck by drivers trying to escape the law.
Michigan State Police recently suspended all chases in Detroit, pending the investigation of one in which a pursuing officer fired a Taser stun-gun at a youth fleeing him on an unlicensed all-terrain vehicle just before the youth fatally struck a truck.
McKenna said declining to chase the odd-talking man wasn't an option.
"'When you have a person who goes to a law-enforcement agency and talks that way, you have to do something. If we'd let let it go and something happened, I'd be getting hammered up here right now. I don't like how this turned out but we had to take action," he said.
The suspect is to be arraigned Saturday, said Oakland County authorities, who are handling the investigation. The 22-year-old Macomb Township man will be arraigned at 11 a.m. in Rochester Hills' 52-3 District Court via video link, according to a news release from the Oakland County Sheriff.
Overall died of blunt force injuries and his death has been ruled a homicide by the Oakland County Medical Examiner. The suspect has been held in the Macomb County Jail since the crash early Thursday, reportedly to avoid potential friction with jail guards who considered Overall a close friend.
The inmate at the Lapeer County Jail whom the fleeing driver had wanted released told investigators he was unaware of any effort to free him, McKenna said in the news conference. The inmate has been held in Lapeer since July and the two have had no contact, he said, adding: “It’s just an acquaintance. The guy in jail has been very cooperative. But it’s so hard to tell what this is about with somebody who’s so delusional.”
Overall was known as a caring, outgoing officer who took special interest in young people. Many who said Overall helped them as youths are among those who've left comments on a GoFundMe site set up to aid Overall's family. As of Friday afternoon, the site had raised more than $44,000 in pledges.
Overall was recently married and had one adult son, authorities said.
Services for Deputy Eric Overall
Monday: Visitation will be 3-8 p.m. at Mt. Zion Church, 4900 Maybee Road, Independence Township. Open to the public.
Tuesday: Funeral service at Mt. Zion Church. Doors open at 9:30 a.m., with a service to begin at 11 a.m. After the service, there will be a "private procession for family and members of the Oakland County Sheriff's Office."
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