Law enforcement holds community meeting about deadly Gaston Co. chase

GASTONIA, N.C. — The Gaston County Sheriff's Office said it hopes to clear up any confusion, one week after a man was hit and killed during a chase.

There was a community meeting with Sheriff Alan Cloninger, the district attorney, and State Highway Patrol on Monday evening to discuss what happened.

It was held at Friendship Christian Church on Bradley Avenue.

One person was killed and a second was listed in critical condition after they were hit while walking on Rankin Avenue by a car being chased by a Gaston County sheriff’s deputy, officials said.

Deputies said the driver of the car that was being chased, Joshua Soule, was booked into jail and charged with second-degree murder, DWI and fleeing to elude.

Joshua Soule

(Joshua Soule)

Officials said a deputy saw Soule driving erratically and suspected him of driving under the influence. When the deputy tried to stop him, Soule took off, starting a short chase through a neighborhood.

Officials said Soule was driving 15 miles over the speed limit and the pursuit lasted about 30 seconds before the two pedestrians were hit.

The chase ended when Soule crashed his car and tried to run, but deputies caught him and took him into custody.

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Authorities said the two victims were hit during the chase. Antrel Garnigan, 28, was killed and Shawn Smith, 48, is in the hospital with critical injuries. Witnesses said the impact from the hit knocked Smith into a tree.

Garnigan was from Georgia.

Highway Patrol Trooper Ray Pierce said a preliminary investigation indicated the car being chased by the deputy’s vehicle struck both pedestrians.

District Attorney Locke Bell backed up that claim in court Monday during a hearing over a request to release body camera video from the pursuit.

He said the Highway Patrol and county officials thoroughly inspected the deputy's car.

"No evidence at all of any contact with persons," Bell said.

But witnesses don't believe that version of events.

Channel 9's Gaston County bureau reporter Ken Lemon spoke to Smith's family and said the anger is evident.

They insist Gaston County deputies are wrong.

Smith's sister said she saw the crash and Soule didn't hit her brother -- the deputy did.

The pastor of H.I.S. Frontline Ministry shared church surveillance video of the chase with Lemon.

In the video, a gold car can be seen speeding by and about five seconds later, Gaston County Deputy T. Buchanan's vehicle is seen driving by the same area with flashing blue lights.

The video captured the seconds before the chase ended in a deadly crash.

CaroMont Regional Medical Center was placed under lockdown following the crash because of an influx of visitors from the West Rankin Avenue area.

Reporter Joe Bruno described the scene on West Rankin Avenue as "intense" when neighbors confronted police. A crowd of more than 50 people gathered at the scene, some of them trying to check on family members or seek answers as to what happened.

“It could have been me,” witness Zechariah Smith said. “I could have gotten hit. I was standing right there. I was standing right here, and the car hit him.”

North Carolina State Highway Patrol and the State Bureau of Investigations will be assisting in the investigation.

Lemon said Soule, who is a habitual felon, broke down into tears in court Monday as the district attorney gave details of the crash.

Soule yelled in court when the district attorney said the two victims were standing together.

"No. Get it straight. There was a whole group of people," he said.

Assistant Chief Deputy Garry Williams had a message for neighbors who questioned what happened.

"The only thing we can say is, give us time to do the investigation," Williams said. "Obviously with Highway Patrol coming in, we're trying to be as impartial as possible, not conduct any interviews. We'll conduct an internal investigation, but we're gonna follow what SHP finds in its investigation and SBI when they complete their investigation."

[PHOTOS: 1 killed, 1 hurt after being struck by vehicle being pursued by deputy, officials say]

The Sheriff's Office said deputies' cruisers do not have dashcams and the deputies' body cams were not on during the chase.

"Between witnesses on the scene, there was initial confusion as to whether the suspects' car struck the pedestrians or if it was the sheriff's patrol vehicle," Williams said. "The Highway Patrol is being called in to conduct an investigation and both vehicles have been seized for evidence until they complete that process."

Troopers said they inspected the body and undercarriage of Buchanan‘s cruiser and found no evidence that he hit either of the victims, despite the account of witnesses.

"We can't find any evidence whatsoever on that vehicle that would lead us to believe that that vehicle made contact with the pedestrians," said Pierce.

Investigators are downloading information from the computer in Soule's car to learn more about the chain of events.

Troopers said they have body camera footage from the arresting officer, which should also tell them who should be held responsible.

Return to this story for updates.