COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Michael Shepherd, 25, made his first court appearance Wednesday, as he faces three charges of vehicular homicide (a class C felony) and evading arrest (a class E felony).
Investigators say Shepherd was trying to get away from Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers when he crashed into another vehicle, killing a woman and two children.
A bond hearing for the charges of vehicular homicide was set for February 17. In the meantime, Shepherd will remain in custody without bond.
An arrest warrant detailed the moments leading up to Shepherd colliding with 24-year-old Amanda Chatman’s car in Cookeville.
THP says they received multiple calls of someone in a silver truck driving recklessly traveling west on I-40. As soon as troopers caught up with Shepherd, court documents say he sped off forcing other drivers to take evasive action.
Troopers say Shepherd was traveling at speeds of up to 120 mph while continuing to drive erratically for miles. By the time Shepherd made it to South Willow Avenue, Chatman’s car crossed his path and the two collided. Chatman and her two sons died on the scene.
Esther Seoanes is the executive director of Pursuit Safety. A group dedicated to helping prevent death or injury as a result of law enforcement pursuits. By compiling research and comparing pursuit protocols between different departments, Seoanes works to educate officers on the risks behind chasing down criminals. Not only to protect bystanders, but Seoanes says to protect officers as well.
Without knowing too many details and not knowing protocols for Tennessee troopers, Seoanes can only draw from her examples. She says most departments have a policy that limits pursuits to suspects we know are violent.
“Most of the time the chases are not necessary. So there would be a lot fewer chases if they followed the ideal policy of only pursuing violent felony crimes when people’s lives are in danger,” Seoanes said.
THP declined to comment on their policy, but court documents suggest troopers may have pursued Shepherd knowing he was a risk to others. Witnesses told us off camera that while troopers did pursue, they were at least 8 seconds behind Shepherd to give him ample space. Seoanes says it’s all about evaluating the risk and keeping as many people safe as possible.
“We’re talking about people’s lives and that’s what we care about,” Seoanes said.