Grand Jury Decision Reached Regarding Car Chase Death
After the early February car chase that took the life of 46-year-old James Lester Estes, the Bradford County Grand Jury reached a decision Monday about whether deputies taking shots at Estes' car was justified.
A series of robberies on February 3 prompted the car chase. As the man who took the cash drawer got away, a witness gave authorities a description that closely resembled that of a man who they say robbed a store in Bradford County later that day.
The chase ended with Estes crashing his vehicle. Bradford County deputies had confirmed that they fired gun shots at the vehicle during the chase, but they don't know if that was what caused the man's death or the crash.
Four law enforcement agencies had been investigating the case: the Florida Highway Patrol and FDLE as well as Alachua County and Bradford County sheriffs.
In the final report, the Grand Jury stated that it “agrees with the conclusion of the Alachua County Grand Jury that the shooting of James Lester Estes, a fleeing felon, was lawful under these circumstances."
Rarely, if ever, do cases get presented to more than one Grand Jury. This incident was unique due to the majority of the pursuit occurring in Bradford County but culminating in Alachua County with the justified shooting death of the suspect.
State Attorney William Cervone presented the case to the Grand Jury in Alachua County initially, due to the death occurring in that jurisdiction. After reviewing the incident, they determined the shooting was justified and recommended the second review by the Bradford County Grand Jury. Both groups made some suggestions for improvement but were overall satisfied with the handling of the incident by the Bradford County Sheriff's Office.
Sheriff Gordon Smith said, "I appreciate the efforts of both Grand Juries and will be taking steps to implement their suggestions. I was impressed with the professionalism of the officers involved in the pursuit and the level of cooperation we had from the Starke Police Department and Bradford County EMS."
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