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Haywood County sheriff says deputy did nothing wrong in chase that ended in fatality

By Kimberly King

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    JACKSON COUNTY, North Carolina (WLOS) — A wanted man fleeing police in Haywood County on Wednesday night, July 21, crashed into oncoming traffic, struck a truck head-on and killed a passenger in the victim’s vehicle, police said.

Thursday evening, News 13 confirmed a second passenger in the victim’s truck was in critical condition. The passenger who died at the scene was identified as 46-year-old Zenen Lopez-Guzman.

The suspected felon fleeing deputies from Haywood County into Jackson County in the high-speed chase, Dalton Suttles, refused to stop after the deputy turned on his lights and sirens to pull him over for an initial traffic stop, Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher said.

“Our deputy knew Mr. Suttles, and knew him well,” said Christopher. “There were outstanding felony warrants for his arrest.”

According to Haywood County investigators, Suttles had probation violations related to felony convictions that included gun theft, meth possession and breaking and entering.

Investigators with highway patrol confirmed Suttles, while speeding at above 55 miles per hour, crossed into oncoming eastbound traffic on U.S. 23/74 and hit the victim’s truck head-on.

The truck’s driver, investigators said, walked away with non-life-threatening injuries.

When asked if a high-speed chase in this particular situation was necessary, Christopher said the deputy did nothing wrong.

“Our deputies have to chase from time to time, and they are legally able to do that,” Sheriff Christopher said. “Sometimes, people are in danger, and it is so sad that we have an element in society that chooses to make bad choices. Those bad choices really makes it tough on the rest of our citizens that are just going about their daily business.”

Haywood County Sheriff’s Office policy, reviewed by News 13, indicates that a deputy has the discretion to initiate a high-speed chase if there is concern for public safety with regard to the individual being pursued.

Haywood County policy also states a deputy should evaluate potential risks for fellow motorists, who could be hurt or killed, and then decide whether to terminate a pursuit by weighing the risks.

In this case, the chase was at 9 p.m. Wednesday, beginning in Haywood County and ending in Jackson County. Christopher would not identify the deputy who chased Suttles, but said he was a veteran with the department.

Suttles is in jail without bond. He faces new charges related to evading arrest and hitting the truck.

Christopher said there would be a review of the chase, but he stopped short of stating he would seriously consider any change to the current chase policy in light of Wednesday’s crash.

Andrew Hanson, an assistant professor of criminology at Western Carolina University, said he could see both sides of the issue.

“Many, but not all, agencies across the country have placed restrictions on the conditions under which vehicle pursuits are authorized and allowed to continue,” Hanson said. “It’s impossible to make a determination without more details regarding the roadway conditions, number of vehicles involved, etcetera, but it sounds like the suspect made a very dangerous decision to drive the wrong way on a highway and killed somebody.”

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