Thaddeus Johnson

Thaddeus Johnson

The family of a 22-year-old cosmetology student who was one of two young people killed in a crash during a police chase last month called for answers on Wednesday while also questioning why the 30-mile pursuit was allowed to continue.

Thaddeus Johnson Jr. had been driving home from school the evening of Oct. 16 when he was hit head-on by a 17-year-old who led authorities on a chase from New Roads that ended in northern East Baton Rouge Parish.

Family members on Wednesday called for changes to state and local policies on police chases and say authorities should have ended the chase because it had become too dangerous.

"I know that won't get him back but they need some kind of law so this doesn't happen to someone else," said Meriam Smith, Johnson’s mother. “It’s reckless.”

The chase started when a New Roads police officer spotted a Chevrolet Camaro at a gas station on False River Drive that was later flagged as being stolen.

Pointe Coupee Parish sheriff’s deputies joined the chase that spanned four parishes and along U.S. 61 before ending near the intersection of Old Rafe Meyer Road and Scenic Highway in East Baton Rouge Parish, when the driver of the Camaro crossed the median and struck Johnson’s car.

Johnson was killed at the scene, along with the Camaro’s driver, 17-year-old Stanlasija Brue. Both of them lived in New Roads. Three other passengers in the Camaro were critically injured, including a two-year-old who the driver was babysitting, officials have said.

Smith said that, while she holds the driver responsible for the crash, authorities should have either ended the chase or found ways to stop other traffic in the area. She also criticized responding law enforcement agencies for leaving her son's personal belongings strewn across the road and leaving them for family to collect.

"This should not have happened," Smith said.

The Pointe Coupee Sheriff’s Office didn’t return messages seeking comment on Wednesday.

Sheriff René Thibodeaux has said it’s not uncommon for deputies to follow fleeing suspects beyond parish lines at their discretion. They continued following the Camaro because the driver endangered public safety and at times was swerving wildly and other agencies weren’t able to respond, he said.

Johnson had been driving home from the Vanguard College of Cosmetology and was just a month away from graduating before his death. Friends and family describe him as a talented hair and makeup stylist who aspired to open his own shop once he finished.

Several of his classmates got tattoos of Johnson’s logo: a unicorn with green and black hair.

“Everybody there loved him,” Smith said, adding that the school recently held a graduation ceremony for her oldest son in the days after the crash.

Ron Haley Jr., a lawyer representing Johnson’s family, also called for the release of reports detailing what may have led to the crash, as well as any tactics or maneuvers law enforcement in their attempts to stop the Camaro.

Because of the relatively minor penalties tied to the theft of a vehicle, the chase should not have continued as long as it did, Haley said.

“Recovery of property is never equal to the value of human life,” Haley and other lawyers wrote in a letter to the sheriff’s office. “If it is indeed the policy of the Pointe Coupee Sheriff’s Office to conduct such chases and allow their deputies such vast discretion without any true threat to loss of life, then this policy is inherently and deeply flawed and must be changed.”


Email Youssef Rddad at yrddad@theadvocate.com, and follow him on Twitter @youssefrddad