For Etoyce Johnson, retirement life bloomed with the lives of her sons, her grandchildren, and her church activities at Tulsa’s Great Grace Temple.
Johnson, 64, was on her way to Sunday morning church services June 26 when her full life was cut short.
A stolen pickup driven by a man state troopers identify as Blake Lee Ferguson, 32, attempted to outrun them and ran a stop sign. The speeding truck smashed into the side of Johnson’s compact car, knocking it off the roadway.
Firefighters arrived at the scene and pulled her from the wreckage but hospital authorities later confirmed she died from her injuries.
Greater Grace Pastor Donald Tyler lives in the area where the wreck happened.
“I can tell you exactly where it is,” Tyler said. “It’s a rural area with a ‘T’ intersection. It’s 76th street, which is like a highway. It’s a fast moving traffic area. He ran that stop sign trying to get away. She probably never saw him coming.”
Oklahoma Department of Public Safety spokesman Lt. John Vincent said the investigation would take some time and said the incident report was not available.
However, a trooper at the scene told The Frontier’s partner, NewsOn6, that Ferguson was pulled over in a stolen pickup and had drug paraphernalia visible in the cab.
“The guy pulls over, looks like everything’s gonna’ go good, then he takes off northbound on Mingo,” Trooper Dwight Durant said.
Once the chase ensued, Durant said, the pickup’s driver began evasive maneuvers, turning the pursuit into what he called an assault.
“The suspect tried to run ’em off the road and was brake-checking them, trying to get them to crash. That brings it up to another level,” Durant said. “Right now, we got an assault on a police officer with a dangerous weapon, which is a vehicle.”
However, did the troopers have to chase the pickup into Owasso, and into Johnson’s car? That’s the part we aren’t allowed to see, says DPS General Counsel Steve Krise. The department will not release the specifics of its high-speed chase protocols.
“They are tactical in nature and would reveal the way we conduct our pursuits, which would potentially hinder our ability to use them if our tactics were disclosed publicly,” Krise said.
Other law enforcement organizations openly share their pursuit policies.
“We have pursuit policies and procedures,” said Oklahoma City Police Department spokesman Sgt. Gary Knight. “Our policies are an open record. We’ve never been bashful about putting them out there.”
The policy in the 289-page Police Operations Manual for Oklahoma City states, “All officers are reminded that their basic responsibility is to protect the public. When the danger of a pursuit exceeds the value of an immediate apprehension, public safety shall be paramount and require alternative methods of apprehension.”
The procedures go on to specify that if a pursuit escalates, it may be time to let it go, and that certain crimes are not worth the risk. Officers are not to engage in pursuit, among other reasons, “when the degree or risk to the involved officer(s) and/or public exceeds the value of an immediate apprehension. For the purpose of this procedure, felony attempting to elude shall not be considered a violent crime.”
The Tulsa Police Department also said its pursuit policy is available for public review. Spokesman Officer Leland Ashley said pursuing officers must consider a variety of factors. They are also monitored by a supervisor, who may order the pursuit terminated.
“A lot of officers will break off pursuit, and say, ‘This guy or this girl is driving too recklessly,’ or ‘the conditions this time of day cause a great risk.’ A lot of times, officers will terminate the pursuit before a supervisor can,” Ashley said.
Such policies exist to protect innocent bystanders such as Johnson.
Her son, Eric Johnson, told NewsOn6 that Johnson was a mother of four and a grandmother of five, and she spent a lot of time with his kids.
“Every time she leaves, my kids give you a hug. ‘I love you nana, love you nana.’ ‘Love you too, baby,’ that’s what she would say,” Eric Johnson said.
Tyler said the death of Johnson, a longtime language teacher, a mother, a grandmother and an active parishioner, will leave a void.
“She was one of my most faithful members,” Tyler said. “She raised four sons. She has faced trauma in her life. She had been in an accident before and had a scar on her face. But she was a great, great lady, a great member. A great mom and a great grandmother.
“She was a retired schoolteacher. I went to her class several times and helped her on volunteer days. It’s a very tragic accident.”
Tyler said he is aware other states have protocols apparently different from those of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
“I lived in California for years and it’s against the laws of high speed chase in California. They’ve got to get this guy off the street and unfortunately, there’s no easy way to do it, and unfortunately, someone died in the chase,” Tyler said.
“The biggest thing to me is her four sons and her grandchildren. Now, she’s not there for her family. That’s a huge thing.”