By Curt Yeomans
The Georgia State Patrol charged a 27-year-old Albany man with kidnapping, theft by taking and fleeing and attempting to elude officers after he allegedly stole a tractor-trailer cab from a parking lot in Union City and led police on a chase through six counties.
State troopers and officers from several law enforcement agencies pursued Milo Banks at speeds of up to 50 mph for more than an hour Tuesday, authorities said.
Banks allegedly first led police through the back roads of Fulton, Clayton and Henry counties, but eventually made his way to Interstate 75 at Jonesboro Road near McDonough. Clinging to the back of the tractor-trailer cab during the chase was Lithonia resident Torrey Lang, who authorities said was driving the truck before it was stolen.
The chase ended at approximately 3 p.m., Tuesday, in northern Monroe County, near Forsyth, Georgia State Patrol spokesman Gordy Wright said. One Georgia State Patrol trooper received a "flesh wound" when he was accidentally shot at the end of the pursuit, but he is expected to be OK, Wright said.
Wright said authorities stayed behind the vehicle throughout the chase out of concern for Lang's safety.
"You had to take the driver hanging onto the back of the tractor-trailer into consideration," Wright said. "When you get ahead of a suspect, you run the risk that he will speed up. If you forced him to make any sudden moves, the driver very easily could have been thrown from the vehicle, and into the tires."
Among the pursuing law enforcement officials were officers from Clayton County, Henry County and Locust Grove police departments, as well as Clayton County sheriff's deputies.
In a written statement, Monroe County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Allison Selman-Willis said the truck's original driver, Lang, stopped at a cell phone store in Union City, and left the vehicle unlocked and running while he went into the store. While Lang was inside, Banks got inside the cab and locked the door, Selman-Willis said.
"Lang approached his truck and jumped onto the side of the vehicle as it was being driven off to try and stop the suspect from stealing the truck," Selman-Willis said. "At that point, the vehicle was traveling too fast for Lang to jump off so he held on the back of the truck cab as Banks drove south."
The truck was reported stolen to Fulton County 911 officials at 1:40 p.m., according to Selman-Willis.
Clayton County Sheriff Kem Kimbrough said Banks drove the tractor-trailer into Clayton County on Ga. Highway 138. The sheriff said Banks turned south onto Ga. 85 in Riverdale, and then headed eastbound on Pointe South Parkway, which eventually becomes Flint River Road as it approaches Jonesboro.
Banks, turned south toward Lovejoy onto Tara Boulevard, Kimbrough said. The sheriff said once Banks was in Lovejoy, he turned east onto McDonough Road, heading into Henry County, where it becomes Jonesboro Road. Banks got onto Interstate 75 at the Jonesboro Road interchange, Kimbrough said. Henry County police joined the pursuit at the county line, according to Kimbrough.
While the chase progressed through Clayton County, 15 sheriff's deputy units and several Clayton County Police officers blocked intersections to prevent motorists from crossing the path of the oncoming tractor-trailer and pursuing law enforcement officers, Kimbrough said.
"I had nearly all of my on-duty units involved in this while it was in the county," Kimbrough said. The sheriff said his department's involvement dropped to two cars once the chase left the county. Those deputies dropped out of the chase shortly before it ended because they were beginning to get farther and farther from Clayton County.
Locust Grove Police Chief Jesse Patton said his officers were able to blow out two front tires on the tractor trailer cab after they put up two sets of spiked, stop sticks at exit 212 on Interstate 75. "After this, the vehicle continued at a slow rate of speed [on] I-75 southbound towards Butts County," Patton said.
Georgia State Patrol troopers joined the chase once it moved to the interstate, Wright said.
Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner said his department's air unit followed the chase from Clayton County to Monroe County. "If there is a helicopter in the air directing ground units, it means the guys on the ground can stay back a little bit," Turner said. "A suspect will drive faster if a police car is right on his tail."
Selman-Willis said the tractor-trailer was finally stopped around mile marker 190 on I-75 in Monroe County when stop sticks became wrapped around the truck's axle. By that point, the truck's tires had been blown out, Wright said. As the truck slowed down to a stop, Lang jumped off the back of it uninjured, Wright said.
Troopers broke out the ventilation window on the driver's side of the truck and used that hole to enter the vehicle. Wright said Banks struggled to break free of the troopers as they pulled him from the truck. Video which aired on the cable television network Headline News showed troopers wrestling Banks to the ground near the median of the interstate.
"He was still trying to reach for the guard rail when they had him on the ground," Wright said. "Eventually, they were able to get him under control and place him in handcuffs."
Wright said law enforcement officials did not use a TASER on Banks to restrain him.
Authorities said there was only one person injured during the arrest of Banks. Wright said 34-year-old Trooper First Class Tre Howard, a 14-year veteran with the Georgia State Patrol from its post in Forsyth, suffered a gunshot wound in his arm after the tractor-trailer was stopped.
Selman-Willis said the shot was "friendly fire" from another law enforcement officer, although she did not identify which agency the officer was affiliated with because of an ongoing investigation.
Wright said the shot was not fired by other troopers.
Wright and Selman-Willis said the shooting is currently under investigation, with the assistance of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and it is not clear why shots were fired. She said officers did not find any weapons on Banks or in the tractor-trailer cab after he was arrested.
"I don't think it was clear while the chase was going on that he was unarmed," Selman-Willis said during a phone interview. "Radio traffic indicated he did have a weapon. It wasn't until after he was in custody, and he had been padded down, and the cab had been searched that it was determined he did not posses a weapon."
Wright said Howard was taken to a hospital in Macon to receive treatment for his wound, but he was released around 6 p.m., with a bruise on his shoulder and a "flesh wound" on his arm. Howard is expected to return to work once his wounds heal, Wright said.
Officials from the Union City Police Department and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation could not be reached for comment.
- Staff writer Johnny Jackson contributed to this report.