By Linda Looney-Bond
A Clayton County Magistrate Judge ruled Thursday that there is probable cause to bind over 18 of 19 charges against a Fayetteville man involved in a deadly police chase. The case against Christian Ree Harris, 24, will be heard in Superior Court.
Harris is accused of leading Clayton police on a high speed chase Sept. 9 that continued into Fulton County. Police say Harris then caused a head-on collision that killed Zannie Hatcher, 73, and her daughter, Bonnie Vicks, 57, both of College Park, on Old National Highway in Fulton County.
Clayton County Police Officer Michael Bryson was called to the stand by Clayton County Chief Assistant District Attorney Erman Tanjuatco during a preliminary hearing Thursday.
Bryson testified that he initially encountered Harris when Harris was allegedly impeding traffic on Old Dixie Road, near Interstate 75, while talking to two women.
"As I was walking up, the vehicle sped off," Bryson testified. He said Harris ran a red light on Upper Riverdale Road, and traveled on the wrong side of the road.
"He was showing disregard for anyone's safety," Bryson said. He testified that Harris then turned onto Interstate 75. "He was reaching speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. I reached a speed of 110 attempting to catch up with him," Bryson testified.
The officer said the chase continued onto Interstate 285 eastbound, to Old National Highway. "We backed off of the vehicle while on Old National Highway, using due regard for other motorists," Bryson said. "He [Harris] eventually got into a traffic accident."
Bryson said another officer was in the passenger seat of his patrol vehicle during the pursuit, and that he, Bryson, did not see the crash take place. Becoming teary-eyed, Bryson told the court that he soon came upon the crash.
"There were two females that were unconscious and not alert," he said.
Defense Attorney Lloyd Matthews later asked Bryson: "So you basically engaged in a high speed pursuit over somebody that was talking to two females?"
Bryson responded that he pursued the vehicle because Harris was driving recklessly without regard to other motorists.
Harris faces 18 charges in Clayton County, including numerous traffic violations, two drug possession charges, and a theft by receiving charge. Police say Harris was driving a stolen 2010 Chevrolet Silverado pick-up truck during the chase.
Judge Brad Gardner dismissed an obstruction charge against Harris, during the hearing.
Fulton County Police have charged Harris with two counts of vehicular homicide, four counts of hit-and-run, one count of driving on the wrong side of the road, and one count of reckless driving, according to Sgt. Scott McBride, of the Fulton County Police Department.
McBride said Thursday that he did not have information about when Harris would be transferred to Fulton County to face charges there. Harris remains in the Clayton County Jail without bond. He was denied bond during a first appearance hearing Sept. 11.
A Clayton County Police chase review board is investigating the incident, according to Lt. Rebecca Brown, a department spokesperson. Brown said police acted according to departmental policy during the pursuit.
Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell said recently that his staff also is looking into the chase.