by: Ken Lemon, Gina Esposito Updated:
KINGS MOUNTAIN, N.C. - Officials have identified the man they said led authorities on a wild police chase that spanned across state lines and three counties Thursday morning and ended with the suspect being fatally shot by officers following an exchange of gunfire.
Officials told Channel 9 that the pursuit began around 7:30 a.m. following a hit-and-run involving 26-year-old Matthew Whitley on Shannon Bradley Road in Gaston County, North Carolina.
After the pursuit ended, "I saw the body laying in the parking lot with the sheet over it and I had no idea it was my brother,” Whitley’s sister, Amy Neal, told Channel 9.
Troopers spotted the suspect vehicle, a blue passenger car, and tried to get Whitley to pull over, but he refused. Instead, he led them on a chase for several miles before crossing into York County, South Carolina, according to police.
Neal said this wasn’t the first time her brother was involved in a high-speed chase.
"He had been involved in high-speed pursuits before so I'm sure he was thinking he would get away,” Neal said.
Before the pursuit entered South Carolina, troopers tried to perform a PIT (pursuit intervention technique) maneuver and told Channel 9 that Whitley fired a shot.
The trooper was not hit.
"It was almost like seeing a horror movie,” witness Miranda Kilby said.
Once in York County, officials told Channel 9 reporter Ken Lemon that Whitley rammed a police cruiser and then fired a shot at law enforcement officers while driving in reverse.
York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson said that when Whitley fired at authorities, deputies fired back. No deputies were hurt, but one Clover police officer suffered minor injuries to his arm.
“My understanding is that several citizen vehicles were behind the vehicle and, of course, deputies took that into account when they exchanged gunfire with the suspect,” Tolson said.
Two York County deputies, Master Deputy II Wayne Richardson and Deputy Blaine Addis, and two Clover officers, Lt. Frankie Sadler and Lt. Logan McGarity, have been placed on administrative leave, which is standard procedure.
During the pursuit, three schools in York County -- Clover Middle School, Bethany Elementary and Kinard Elementary -- were placed on lockdown as a precaution.
Amber Brown, who has two children attending Bethany Elementary and three high schoolers who were headed to school, said she received an alert from the school.
“I was ready to leave and jerk them out,” Brown said. “I'm glad they're safe, very glad they are safe.”
Lloyd White Road at Robinson Yelton Road, between Knox and Calvin roads, was closed due to the investigation, according to officials with the York County Sheriff’s Office.
Witnesses said they watched from their cars and heard the gunfire.
“He had like no tire, no rim. It was just squeaky and stuff,” witness Justus McCranie said. “I heard two pops. I knew it was a gunshot.”
Law enforcement officers then chased Whitley back into North Carolina, where the pursuit came to an end near Cleveland Avenue in Kings Mountain.
"I saw the gentleman get out of his car, and he ran up the hill,” Kilby said. "There was six shots."
Officials confirmed that Whitley got out of the car, firing at officers while he ran away before two Kings Mountain officers shot and killed him.
"He pointed his weapon at my two officers and they fired,” Kings Mountain Police Chief Jerry Tessneer said.
No officers were injured, and officials said the two officers who shot the suspect are on paid administrative leave, which is standard in any shooting investigation.
A woman Channel 9 spoke with said she got a good look at the driver as he passed her at a traffic light seconds before the chase ended.
"When he come through, the whole side of his face was bloody,” Shannon Moore said. “He was a white male and he was just up smoking a cigarette, like it wasn't nothing."
A couple of blocks later, the suspect passed Ken Dearfroff.
“He didn't seem in any type of panic mode,” Dearfroff said.
Lemon reported that the blue car Whitley was driving was heavily damaged.
The Gaston County Sheriff’s Office, Kings Mountain Police Department, Gaston County Police, York County Sheriff’s Office and state troopers were all involved in the incident.
Neal said her brother was battling demons.
"He had a couple warrants out for his arrest and he didn't want to go to jail,” Neal said.
Channel 9 dug through Whitley's criminal record and found he was convicted of at least six crimes in the past 10 years.
One the most serious convictions was for assaulting an officer or a state employee in 2013.
Whitley spent a total of two years and two months in jail.
"I could've done more,” Neal said. “We all could have. I could've reached out to him more, could've tried a lot of different things."
Even though Neal is struggling through her own pain, she realizes dozens of officers and deputies who were involved in the intense chase are also hurting tonight.
"We apologize, and of course, we didn't want anyone to get hurt at all,” Neal said. “We wish it never would've come to anything like that."
The SBI is investigating.
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