Officials identify driver hit, killed by chase suspect in Alexander County

ALEXANDER COUNTY, N.C. — An innocent driver was killed when a highway patrol chase ended with a crash in Alexander County Thursday afternoon, authorities said.

The chase lasted only a few minutes before it ended in a crash around 1:30 p.m. Thursday on Highway 16 near the county fairgrounds, south of Taylorsville.

According to the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, they initiated the chase near Taylorsville because the car was stolen. They were heading south on Highway 16 when an SUV pulled out onto the highway to head north. A man and a woman were inside the SUV.

Troopers said the suspect’s 2019 Toyota Camry slammed into the 2007 Honda Pilot that was trying to make a left turn onto Highway 16. The man driving the SUV, Clint Carlton Hoke, 62, of Hiddenite, was killed and his passenger, Bridget Rivers Preston, 50, of Hiddenite, was flown to Atrium CMC with life-threatening injuries.

The suspect, Tod-Jaa Dazu-Juan Tilley, 38, of Taylorsville, was taken to Catawba Valley Medical Center after emergency crews pulled him from the burning Toyota. Tilley had non-life-threatening injuries.

Highway 16 was closed for several hours.

John Sigmon was heading home when he saw the chase go right by him. He estimates the driver was going more than 70 mph at the time.

“I didn’t think nothing of it. I thought, ‘What’s up with this?’ And then I glanced back at my side mirror and there’s like six to seven highway patrol and sheriffs behind him chasing him,” Sigmon said.

Less than a minute later, Sigmon spotted the crash. He saw troopers and deputies run up to the burning car with fire extinguishers. Moments later, Sigmon saw the driver pulled from the wreckage.

“It’s a bad situation and my heart goes out to whoever was in the fatality,” he said. “Some things are left better without a chase, especially with things like that going on.”

The highway patrol said charges against the suspect are pending.

The chase lasted about 2 minutes and covered about 1.5 miles.

Number of police chases skyrockets in NC

This type of situation is unfortunately not rare. Across the country, there are nearly three deaths every two days from police pursuits. Channel 9′s Even Donovan found that close to half of the time, the people who die are innocent bystanders.

Within the last six months, a group funded by the Department of Justice published a report on the best practices for when to pursue a suspect. What troopers say started Thursday’s pursuit -- that a suspect stole a car -- does not meet those new standards to pursue.

Over the years, we’ve shared stories of people killed or badly hurt in police pursuits. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that in the last 20 years in North Carolina, 236 people have died in police pursuits. Nearly half of them, or 107 total, were innocent people not involved in the pursuit.

The number of pursuits has skyrocketed in recent years. Data from the North Carolina State Highway Patrol shows its troopers initiated 454 pursuits in 2019. By 2022, that number had grown to more than 1,000.

Lt. Shelly Katkowski served on the Pursuits Working Group for the Police Executive Research Forum.

“They’re not easy situations,” Katkowski said. “They’re dangerous situations.”

They spent three years creating 65 recommendations for when agencies should pursue and how. PERF’s specific standard says officers should only pursue when a violent crime has been committed -- not for things like a stolen car.

“If you wake up and your car is stolen, you want your car back, you know? That’s not a good feeling, to be a victim,” Katkowski said. “However, flip it, right? You do pursue, and it’s a bus stop, and something happens, and you hurt somebody’s child, right? Over a car. That’s insured.”

Evan Donovan has been looking into police pursuits for months. He reviewed policies from several agencies in the area and compared them to this new report.

On Monday, he’ll share which ones meet the standards and which don’t. He’ll also show how the suspects in these pursuits can often be caught with good police work -- without endangering the public in a pursuit.

>> Watch Channel 9 on Monday at 5 p.m.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

(WATCH BELOW: Multi-county chase ends in crash in Mecklenburg County, troopers say)

Evan Donovan

Evan Donovan, wsoctv.com

Evan is an anchor and reporter for Channel 9.