His officers assembled behind him, Dade County Sheriff Ray Cross held a press conference at noon today about the police chase Tuesday that led to a wreck on the Trenton town square and tragic injury to his valued second-in-command.
Maj. Tommy Bradford was injured Tuesday when a woman fleeing from Dade and DeKalb County (Ala.) police struck him with her white 1997 Ford pickup truck on Highway 11 just south of town as he attempted to lay road spikes to disable the vehicle and end the chase. Sheriff Cross said the suspect, Lora Leigh Ann Wooten, 35, of Henagar, Ala., "targeted" Bradford, who was partially in the road as she sped toward Trenton.
"When she hit the spike strips, then she came at him," said the sheriff.
The suspect then continued toward Trenton until she was forced by a Dade deputy's car into a utility pole on the square, causing lights to flicker off and back on across town. She was transported to CHI Memorial, formerly Hutcheson, Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe and then taken into custody by Walker County. Information officer Sgt. Chad Payne explained later that she had been detained by Walker because she was in the hospital there but would be brought to Dade later today and booked here.
Maj. Bradford, who was airlifted to Chattanooga from the scene, lost one leg below the knee, and Sheriff Cross said he sustained multiple other injuries including one to his shoulder and a possible cracked pelvis. The officer has already had surgery and has many more in store, said Cross. "He has a long road to recovery," said the sheriff. But he added that Bradford was in good spirits, even cracking the occasional joke.
Sheriff said Lora Wooten faces multiple charges but did not specify any, for now only saying that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was investigating the case. A report issued by the Georgia State Patrol said GSP Post 41 and the GSP SCRT division are investigating as well.
Asked if the road spikes Bradford was deploying when he was injured would have worked if he had finished the job, Sheriff Cross said it was pointless to speculate. "These things happen in a split-second," he said.
And asked about the crime for which the suspect was being pursued from Alabama--the chase began in Fort Payne--the sheriff said he understood it was in connection with a burglary. He said Dade Emergency Services Director Alex Case had contacted DeKalb County dispatch as Ms. Wooten sped toward the state line and had asked whether Dade deputies should join in the chase, Case had been told yes, please proceed, said the sheriff.
Cross said alcohol had not seemed to be a factor in Ms. Wooten's cross-country spree though: "We do suspect drugs are involved." He said her blood would be analyzed but that it would take several months for test results to come back.
Cross described Tommy Bradford as a "dear friend and a brother" who ran the sheriff's office in his absence. He said he and Bradford had started together in the sheriff's office in 1993 under then-Sheriff Philip Street and had been partners on road patrol together.
He pointed out that Bradford's wife, Mary Ann, also works in the Dade Sheriff's Office, and noted that the couple had recently adopted a child they had been fostering. "He's a great guy," said Cross.
The sheriff thanked the community for its spontaneous outpouring of love and support for the wounded officer and his family. A prayer vigil for Bradford and local law enforcement in general was held Tuesday night in Trenton, and a blood drive will take place this afternoon from 4:30-8:30 p.m. at Piney Grove Baptist Church. "You couldn't ask for a better community," said the sheriff.
Sheriff Cross thanked all the local law enforcement agencies, dispatchers, fire departments, emergency services, local governments, business and civic organizations for their help in looking after Bradford and his family, and he thanked Sgt. Buddy Waters and Sgt. Chip Burroughs in particular for rendering aid to the wounded officer at the scene and for bringing the chase to an end without injuring anyone else.
The sheriff said an account at the Bank of Dade will be set up by Thursday if community members would like to help the Bradford family financially.