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Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Tamia Jackson holds a photo of her older brother Randy Goforth at one of his familiar places to be off Hickory Valley Road, 84 Lumber.

Read part two of this series: Police pursuits cost lives and taxpayers money: Law enforcement agencies weigh policies

Ever since her brother died last summer, Tamia Jackson hasn't been able to make sense of what happened.

That July 14 evening, 32-year-old Randy Goforth spent time with his girlfriend and her children at Collegedale's Imagination Station park, according to Jackson.

After the park visit, Jackson was supposed to meet Goforth at their mother's house for Sunday dinner.

"Chicken and dumplin's is what he wanted," Jackson said.

Earlier in the year, Goforth had been released from federal prison, having served 10 years for drug conspiracy. But he had been on the up-and-up since then, Jackson said.

He was working two jobs and had recently bought a new car.

"He was different," she said of his time after prison. "He went in a kid and came home [an adult]."

As they waited for him to arrive that night, Jackson and her mother, Pamela Burnette, assumed maybe Goforth's phone had died. Or maybe he was still with his girlfriend.

"We called him and called him. Texted him," Jackson said.

But he never responded.

Later that night, Jackson went home, but she and her mother stayed up all night waiting to hear from him.

He would have had to stop by Burnette's house (he'd been living there) to pick up his work clothes early in the morning, she said.

But when he didn't come home, "I figured something bad had happened," she said.

They started making calls.

"He wasn't at the hospitals he wasn't in jail," Jackson said. "We waited to see if he would go to work. Once they said he didn't come to work, we instantly knew then that it was something worse."

That Monday morning, they called the hospitals back, only this time asking if any John Does had been admitted the night before. One said yes, they had a critically injured, unidentified man.

She knew it was her brother.

It was mid-afternoon when Jackson and Burnette arrived at the hospital. But they were given few answers as to why Goforth was there.

"He couldn't talk. He was on life support," Jackson said, her voice cracking. "But when I walked in and grabbed his hand and told him I was there, he started crying."

She said hospital staff couldn't understand why his family didn't know sooner.

"They were shocked that we didn't get there earlier because they stated that officers told them they've already contacted family," she said. "They did not."

She said his doctor came in and told them Goforth had been in a terrible car crash and suffered a major brain injury.

He was not going to make it.

 

The crash

It was around 9:30 p.m. Sunday when Collegedale Police Department officer Burlon Hayworth spotted Goforth heading south on Ooltewah-Ringgold Road.

He estimated Goforth to be driving at speeds of 70-80 mph in a 35 mph zone, according to an incident report. He waited until Goforth got closer before he turned on his emergency lights.

Goforth didn't pull over, and Hayworth began to pursue him.

Dash camera footage, dispatcher radio traffic and police reports show no indication that Hayworth suspected the driver of anything more than speeding. In fact, apart from the evading arrest charge listed on the incident report, the two initial charges were for reckless driving and improper passing, both of which are misdemeanors.

The pursuit continued onto Bennie Lane — a small, dead-end street — and lasted just over two minutes before Hayworth told dispatchers he felt he had lost the vehicle and was calling off the pursuit.

But by that time, Goforth had already crashed into the woods behind a house in the 9300 block of Bennie Lane.

When Hayworth and another officer — Corey Loftis — arrived, they ran to where Goforth's white Mercedes was turned onto its right side. He was severely injured, and "his head [was] through the sunroof constricting his neck," Hayworth wrote. So "the decision was made to push the car onto it's [sic] wheels so as to help Goforth clear his airways."

Body camera footage shows the officers turning the vehicle over as trees snap and crack under the weight of the vehicle.

One officer tried to get others to help him pull Goforth out of the vehicle, but at least two officers say "no."

"You're gon' end up hurtin' 'im worse," one officer says.

Another officer says he's going to stabilize Goforth's head. But again, he is stopped.

"Hang on. Hang on. Stop. Just stop. He's fixin' to be gone," an officer says, as Goforth is heard faintly wheezing.

"He didn't know this road, boy," an officer says about Goforth. "Look at his f—— head, son."

One officer spots Goforth's backpack and says, "I bet you that backpack's got dope in it." Another points to an item and claims it's a scale. It turned out to be a phone charger.

It would be at least another 15 minutes before emergency personnel arrived on scene.

 

Photo Gallery

Randy Goforth and his family

 

'They can't bring him back'

Jackson and Burnette stayed by Goforth's side until he died three days later on July 17.

"We just kept talking to him, telling him we were there, to hang on," Jackson said, tears in her eyes. "Just so he'd know he wasn't alone. He knew. He was my mom's only son."

The family hasn't been able to understand the events around the crash, Jackson said.

They said police never contacted them to notify them about what happened; they had been unable to find him until the day after the crash because, despite having identified him, police failed to notify them.

Collegedale's police department policy states that the reporting officer is to make a "good faith effort" to notify the immediate family of those involved in motor vehicle accidents. The officer is to record those efforts in their report. But the incident report makes no mention of an attempt to notify family.

Jackson said she's not sure why Goforth would run from police other than possibly being scared about going back to prison.

A toxicology report later showed Goforth's blood alcohol content was at 0.11%, just under twice the legal limit. An arrest could have put him back behind bars.

Months after the crash, the police department reviewed the pursuit.

"The officer operated within department policy," Collegedale Police Department spokeswoman Bridget Raper said in an email. "We have nothing further to add."

But while other agencies have made their pursuit policies more strict, Collegedale has made its policy more lenient. In 2016, Chief Brian Hickman approved a policy that removed specific conditions for when to engage in a high-speed pursuit, including removing the need for probable cause that the suspect has committed or is going to commit a felony.

Now it is left solely up to officer discretion.

"You can train and try to teach [discretion], but in some cases it works out well, in some cases not," said James F. Hodgson, sociology/criminal justice program director and professor of sociology and criminal justice at Averett University.

While DUI is an arrestable offense, it's not encouraged to chase a DUI suspect, according Hodgson.

"Chase someone, get them excited, get them scared, and they're under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Nothing good can come out of that," he said.

And whether there was enough for someone to chase him, Jackson doesn't know.

As of Thursday, Collegedale police had still not contacted Jackson or her mother, and county investigators returned her calls only after the Times Free Press requested more information on the crash.

"They can't bring him back," she said. "Truly love what you have before life teaches you to love what you lost."

Contact Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.

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