A man with a history of reckless driving was being pursued by a Pennington County sheriff's deputy when his car ran a red light Friday night and was struck by another vehicle, leaving the driver of the pursued car in critical condition and his female passenger dead.
Jimmy Pilcher was driving the white Chevy Impala that ran the light while going west on North Street at its intersection with Spruce Street. The ensuing collision killed 40-year-old Tamera Hunter of Kyle and injured people in three other cars, according to the Rapid City Police Department.
Pilcher is in critical condition at Rapid City Regional Hospital, according to police.
According to court records, the 36-year-old Kyle man has previously pleaded guilty to a slew of driving violations and other misdemeanors, including driving without a license, driving with a suspended license, speeding, failing to wear a seat belt, failing to stop at an intersection, possession of controlled substances and disorderly conduct involving domestic abuse.
Another passenger in the Impala, Olin Janis, 37, of Porcupine, suffered non-life threatening injuries.
Pennington County deputies began pursuing the vehicle after a caller reported that an Impala was trying to run someone off the road on Highway 44 and Jolly Lane, according to Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom, who defended the pursuit Tuesday after reviewing dashboard camera footage.
"I believe we followed our policy," he said. "These are unfortunate deals."
The sheriff's pursuit policy states that deputies "will pursue known wanted criminals and traffic violators who fail to yield upon receiving proper notice as long as it does not unduly endanger the public, themselves or other employees."
Thom said that after watching some of the footage of the chase, he believed the deputies began backing off Pilcher's Impala as the chase returned to the city core.
"I can't read their mind, but I don't know how much longer they would have pursued" had Pilcher's car not crashed, he added.
The pursuit began around 9:30 p.m. near the McDonald's on North Street when a deputy tried to pull the vehicle over, according to Thom. Pilcher sped east, turning north on Anamosa Street before making a U-turn and coming back down Anamosa and west on North Street, toward the area constricted by orange construction cones.
The pursuit — which Thom said may have reached between 40 and 60 mph — ended when Pilcher's Impala ran a red light at North Street's intersection with Spruce Street. A Buick LeSabre driving south T-boned the car, causing a chain reaction that involved two other cars. The pursuit lasted about a minute and 45 seconds, according to Thom.
The wreck injured people in all four cars, one of which Ty Acton was driving. Acton, a farmer from Mitchell, Neb., had been cutting through town with his girlfriend on their way to Deadwood when the chase ran into them.
“I told my girlfriend, look at the action up ahead,” said Acton, who remembers seeing police lights, but no sirens. “And next thing I know it, they were in my face.”
Pilcher's Impala spun around and slammed into Acton's Cadillac CTS, which in turn struck another Chevy Impala. Stunned and bruised, Acton stepped out of his car and watched emergency responders descend on the intersection.
“There was kind of a hyper-sense of oddness around,” he said, “a quiet.”
The impact of the crash left Acton with bruises all over his body. He and his girlfriend, Debra Brunner, were released from Rapid City Regional Hospital early Saturday morning, Acton said.
A statement released by the police department on the incident cited alcohol as a factor, but Thom didn't have any more details on who in the car had been drinking. The incident is being investigated by the Rapid City Police Department’s Critical Accident Reconstruction Team and the South Dakota Highway Patrol.
Pilcher has a warrant out of Custer County for a probation violation. More charges are pending.
Also injured was Mary Biesman, 81 of Rapid City, the driver the Buick LeSabre and Elizabeth Mousel, 46, of Rapid City, who drove the other Chevy Impala.