Two sheriff’s deputies didn’t follow procedure as they tried to stop a stolen vehicle and were struck and killed by a deputy in a patrol car chasing the suspects, the sheriff said Thursday.
Palm Beach County deputies Donta Manuel, 33, and Jonathan Wallace, 23, were killed early Wednesday after deploying a device in the road to puncture the tires of the stolen car.
Before deploying the so-called “stop stick,” they failed to attach a device that would have allowed them to stand on the side of the road and pull the stop stick without getting in the path of the oncoming deputy, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said.
The chase began early Wednesday morning after a resident called police to report that a neighbor’s car was being stolen. Wallace and Manuel deployed the stop stick.
Seconds after the stolen car was disabled, the deputies made a “split-second decision” to dash out into the roadway to remove the device, Bradshaw said. That decision turned out to be “a fatal mistake” because they were hit by a canine unit following the stolen car, he said.
“Clear out, canine’s coming,” a deputy can be heard saying on the radio, in audio released Thursday.
“Stop sticks still out!” says one of the deputies who placed the device in the roadway. It was the last communication relayed by Wallace and Manuel.
Bradshaw said investigators may never know why the deputies did not use the retracting device, which was still in one of the deputy’s vehicles.
“Had it been followed, there may well have been a different outcome,” he said.
Rules for using the device clearly state, “Do not enter the roadway because of pursuing vehicles,” Bradshaw said. “That’s why the retracting devices are provided.”
Driver in fair condition
The driver of the patrol car that struck the deputies, Gregorio Fernandez, 39, was being treated for a concussion and a broken arm and remained in fair condition, Bradshaw said.
“He’s dealing with a very difficult situation,” the sheriff said. “He feels horrible about it.”
Authorities arrested Ernie Kirk Daley Jr., 19, and identified him as the driver of the stolen vehicle. Daley was charged with one count of grand theft, one count of fleeing and eluding causing death, and two counts of aggravated manslaughter of a law enforcement officer by culpable negligence, authorities said.
Daley was ordered held without bail Thursday.
His attorney, Steven Sessa, called the deaths “a very tragic accident” and said he would be investigating how the crash occurred and what mistakes were made.
“There were a combination of errors that contributed to this accident,” Sessa said. “It’s just so unfortunate that two good people were killed.”
Police were still looking for a second suspect.