"He was flying," said airport shuttle driver Nick Kagan, who witnessed Friday's high-speed police chase of two Security Forces airmen from Eglin Air Force Base that ended in a dramatic car accident. "The guy had to have been maxed out, going 100, 105. He had military police chasing after him."
The two airmen were chased by military police after they left the base late Friday night -- a chase that reached speeds of at least 100 miles per hour as they traveled up Lewis Turner Boulevard toward Fort Walton Beach. Just as the pursuing officers decided that the high-speed chase was too dangerous to continue, the airmen's vehicle flipped into the air and crashed into a tree.
"He tried turning (on Range Road), trying to lose the cops," Kagan told the Destin Log. "It was definitely a chase."
Kagan described the two vehicles leaving the gate at Eglin and speeding along Lewis Turner Boulevard. He was heading in the opposite direction but stopped to see what was happening and to offer help. He turned his van around just in time to see the airmen's truck "flipping upside down and landing in the trees."
Car Accident Was So Forceful It Took 4 Hours to Peel the Pickup Off the Tree
Lois Walsh, a spokesperson for Eglin, said that the driver had been speeding while driving on base, which is why the security team was pursuing them. According to the accident report, the driver ran a red light after leaving Elgin and reached a speed in excess of 100 mph. At that point, the military police who were in pursuit determined it was unsafe to continue the chase and prepared to slow down.
A minute later, the pursuing officer radioed the base that "the vehicle was going to wreck if it maintained these speeds." About 10 seconds later, the airmen's vehicle crashed.
Ocean City-Wright Fire Department Chief Billy Lord says that the airmen's small pickup truck was wrapped around the tree so tightly that it took rescue workers more than three hours to extricate the two airmen.
"That truck and them were wrapped around the tree together," Lord told the Destin Log. "The vehicle was on its side, and the tree was in the cab."
As rescue crews worked to extricate the men from their crushed vehicle, paramedics had to squeeze into the truck as best as they could to provide medical care.
"They were all wrapped up in all that metal," Lord said. "We had to be careful not to cut them."
They were airlifted to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola. As of Monday, one had been released and the other was still hospitalized but in good condition.
Even after the men were taken away by helicopter, crews had to work at least another hour to remove the remains of the truck from the tree. Lewis Turner Boulevard was closed for at least two hours.
Military law enforcement from Elgin is still investigating the car accident. Walsh told the Destin Log on Monday that no charges had yet been filed and that it was too early in the investigation to know if any would be.
"Witness to high speed chase: He was flying" (The Destin Log, August 16, 2010)