A 35-year-old woman was shot Friday by two Glynn County police officers after a 30-minute pursuit that started in a Glynn Place Mall parking lot, traveled along public roads at speeds of more than 35 mph and ended in a subdivision when the officers feared she was trying to run them down with her car.
The woman, Caroline Small, is in a hospital in Savannah. She was in stable condition Friday afternoon and was expected to recover after being struck in her face by one of eight bullets fired into her car in the Wavely Pines neighborhood of north Glynn County.
The pursuit started with a call to police that a woman appeared to be using some kind of drugs in her car in a parking lot at the mall, Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering said.
"The citizen said he saw her using some narcotic. He walked by and spoke to her and he said she was spaced out. It appeared to him she was heating something up in her lap," Doering said.
When police arrived to investigate, Small allegedly drove away in a gray, four-door Buick.
A Georgia State Patrol officer was first to make contact with her on the road. The patrol was the lead agency during the pursuit, Doering said.
County officers supported the patrol as Small led them on a slow pursuit through the Wavely Pines neighborhood, about two miles from the mall. Speeds never exceeded 35 miles per hour, Doering said.
During the half-hour pursuit, a state patrol trooper attempted some maneuvers to force the woman off the road, but was unsuccessful.
Glynn County police deployed spike strips throughout the neighborhood to shred the woman's tires.
With at least one tire gone, Small continued driving erratically through the residential area until a state patrol officer was able to turn her car around by striking it with his vehicle and pinning it against a telephone pole on Armstrong Avenue, Doering said.
The county officers who were following got out of their vehicles with their service weapons drawn to take the woman into custody.
When Small backed her car up and accelerated toward the officers, they opened fire.
"The officers fired eight shots between the two of them. They each had 14-round capacity magazines. They fired until she stopped accelerating," Doering said.
Small, whose driver's license carried an address in the Wavely Pines neighborhood, police said, was struck in her cheek by one bullet.
"It penetrated her cheek and then fragmented. It is reportedly not a life threatening injury," Doering said.
After reviewing tapes from dashboard video cameras in vehicles of the incident and speaking with several witnesses, Doering said his preliminary impression is the officers acted appropriately.
"She backed up once and struck the (state patrol) car," he said. "Then she backed up again and rammed our patrol vehicle. She backed up a third time and turned the wheel. That is when she accelerated toward my officers. They feared that she was going to do them harm, and the rest of the neighborhood, due to her erratic driving.
"My initial review, and it is only initial, is that the officers acted responsibly."
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is assisting the county department during the investigation of the shooting. The two unidentified officers are on administrative leave during the investigation.
No one other than Small was injured.
Police were waiting for a search warrant Friday afternoon to search Small's car. Looking in the window of the vehicle, Doering said he could see what appeared to be an open bottle of vodka.
Small will face criminal charges for her alleged erratic driving and assault of police officers, Doering said. The exact charges had not been decided.
Doering will turn the criminal investigation over to the district attorney when it is completed. He will conduct a separate internal review of the officers' actions.
Ultimately, Doering said, the officers seemed to have acted as they were trained, but the situation still did not end as he had hoped.
"It didn't end favorably. We always regret loss of life or injury. But due to her erratic driving, she was endangering the lives of people and officers," he said.