NORTH VERSAILLES, Pa. (AP) — A Pittsburgh man who led police on a high-speed chase that ended with a fiery crash that killed three people in another car has been charged with homicide and other crimes.
Demetrius Coleman, 22, was also driving without a license during the chase from East McKeesport into North Versailles on Thursday afternoon and apparently fled once he realized police knew there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest in a drug case, Allegheny County police said.
Two adults and a young child in the car Coleman hit were killed when it burst into flames at the busy intersection of Routes 30 and 48. The county medical examiner has yet to release their names or the precise cause of their deaths.
Coleman had been stopped for making an illegal left turn by East McKeesport police, but sped away as officers from neighboring North Versailles were called to the scene once a records check turned up the drug warrant.
Specific details on the underlying drug case weren’t immediately available, but online court records show Coleman was on probation for a 2012 drug possession case when he was charged with drug possession with intent to deliver in March. He was sentenced to jail, but then paroled and had his probation on the former case extended.
Online court records don’t list an attorney for Coleman, who remained in police custody at UPMC Mercy hospital Friday. His injuries aren’t life threatening, and police said a woman in his car suffered a broken wrist and was also expected to survive.
East McKeesport police Chief Russell Stroschein would not name the officer who made the initial traffic stop or the others involved, but says the 17-year veteran has been placed on administrative leave, which is common in police incidents that result in fatalities.
Accident reconstruction experts and other investigators were still piecing together the crash, in which a second vehicle was also struck by the vehicle Coleman was driving. Three women in that SUV were injured, but survived, police said.
Witnesses contend the chase appeared to reach speeds at least double the 40 mph speed limit on Route 30, though police have yet to confirm that.
Coleman is facing three counts each of criminal homicide, vehicular homicide and aggravated assault, as well as aggravated assault by vehicle, fleeing police, reckless endangerment and driving with a suspended or revoked license, among other charges.
The initial traffic stop was made in a convenience store parking lot about 2 miles away from the fiery crash that ended the pursuit.
Coleman “takes off from the parking lot with disregard to everything he does,” county homicide Det. Scott Scherer said. “He doesn’t look, doing 30 or 40 mph out of the parking lot.”
Paul Trammel, who lives nearby and rushed to the scene when he heard the crash, said police “should have backed off” because “they would have eventually gotten the guy sooner or later. … They had the guy’s license plate.”
It wasn’t immediately clear if the vehicle Coleman was driving was registered to him or someone else.