Officer cautioned on danger of pursuit

Tremaine Wickem
Tremaine Wickem

The officer in the high-speed chase Tuesday that ended with the deaths of two alleged shoplifters who slammed into another vehicle, injuring its two occupants, had been cautioned by his supervisor during the chase to end it if it became too dangerous.

According to 911 dispatch recordings released Thursday, a Gonzales Police Department supervisor told the officer that if the situation became too dangerous he should abort the pursuit, which started at Tanger Outlet Center in Gonzales and ended with a head-on collision with the third vehicle on La. 30 in St. Gabriel.

“If it’s too dangerous, 10-22 it, you understand? If it’s too dangerous, 10-22 it,” the supervisor said. “You got a 28 already on the vehicle. We’ll cut a warrant if we need to.”

In police scanner code, 10-22 is the signal to disregard the assignment. A 10-28 is a vehicle registration request.

The Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office released a 12-minute 25-second recording of the 911 dispatch that chronicled the chase, which reached speeds in excess of 90 mph, as well as recordings of 911 calls from the OshKosh B’gosh and Reebok stores at Tanger to report the shoplifting incidents.

The OshKosh B’gosh call came in at 10:41 a.m., followed by the Reebok call at 10:48 a.m.

Kevdrinka Williams, 25, of Baton Rouge, and Tremaine Wickem, 20, of New Orleans, were stopped by a Gonzales officer in front of the Nike Factory Outlet at the shopping center after they allegedly “stole a couple of pairs of shoes” from Reebok and after Williams “filled her purse full of stuff” at OshKosh B’gosh, the 911 recordings show.

While the officer was on the phone with the dispatch center, he reported that Williams and Wickem “just took off on me” in Williams’ 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser.

The chase began about 10:55 a.m. and ended with the crash at 11:07 a.m.

The officer pursued the suspects along La. 30, requesting help from the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, and he later asked the dispatcher to call State Police and the St. Gabriel Police Department. Sheriff’s officials chose not to get involved. The crash happened before State Police and the St. Gabriel Police Department were notified.

Williams lost control of her vehicle soon after she entered St. Gabriel, according to the dispatch tape.

Along the way, the PT Cruiser and police car reached speeds in excess of 80 and 90 mph, the pursuing officer reported.

“(We’re) using the ‘do-or-die’ lane right now, speeds about 90 mph in the curve,” the officer said.

After receiving the warning from his supervisor, the pursuing officer reported light traffic and continued the pursuit at speeds in excess of 90 mph.

“We don’t have any traffic in front of me right now,” the officer reported.

The traffic came as the vehicles left Ascension Parish and entered St. Gabriel, in Iberville Parish. When Williams attempted to pass vehicles on the shoulder, she lost control of her car and collided head-on with a Toyota Tundra driven by Warren Porta III, 34, of Gonzales.

Williams and Wickem died as a result of the crash. Porta and his passenger, Bradley Nolan, 48, of Geismar, sustained moderate injuries, State Police said.

Gonzales Police Chief Sherman Jackson declined to release the officer’s name and said he will not discuss the case until the internal investigation is completed. He did say, however, that the officer remains on active duty.

On Thursday, Wickem’s family members said they did not know Williams, but it appeared Wickem got caught in a bad situation.

“Tremaine was not a bad child. He really wasn’t,” Jean Wickem, his grandmother, said in a telephone interview from her New Orleans home. “He just got tied up with the wrong person.”

His mother, Belinda Wickem, of New Orleans, said in a telephone interview: “I just think he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

A recent graduate of Chalmette High School in St. Bernard Parish, Tremaine Wickem had no criminal history and was working on a degree in nursing, his grandmother said. She said he told her Tuesday morning he was headed to buy her a Christmas present.

Samantha Wickem, his aunt, also from New Orleans, said in a telephone interview that a family friend claimed Tremaine Wickem had called him from the speeding car, saying he was trying to get Williams to pull over and stop fleeing.

Williams had a prior misdemeanor theft conviction in Dallas in 2006 and was on probation after pleading guilty in Slidell in 2008 to felony charges of drug possession and obtaining a controlled dangerous substance by fraud, criminal records show.

“We know that is not of his character,” Samantha Wickem said. “We don’t know why he would make the decision to be in her presence, period.”

Attempts to reach Williams’ family members in New Orleans were unsuccessful. The injured people in the other car, Porta and Nolan, could not be located for comment Thursday.

Belinda Wickem, who said Gonzales police authorities “should have handled (the situation) better than they did,” said she saw the wreck on the news and knows her son was petrified at the end of his life.

“Every time I close my eyes, that’s all see,” she said.