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Woman killed when car hit during police chase

November 25, 1996

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer, Charles Town

INWOOD, W.Va. - A 21-year-old Inwood woman who was on her way home from work at Wal-Mart early Sunday morning was killed when her car was rammed from behind by a vehicle that was being chased by police, according to West Virginia State Police.

Police believe the Nissan 200 SX they were chasing may have been traveling at about 100 mph when it struck Amanda Marie Smailes' Ford Escort near Smileys Inn in Darkesville, according to Sgt. Scott Wigal, who is investigating the incident.

Smailes' car was forced off the road and into a utility pole, police said.

The suspect's car struck a boulder, overturned, and hit a tree in a yard at a nearby house, police said.

Smailes was transported to City Hospital near Martinsburg where she was pronounced dead, state police said.

Robert Lee Sparkman Jr., 28, of Gerrardstown, the driver of the Nissan, was taken to Winchester Medical Center where he was listed in serious condition Sunday night, a hospital spokeswoman said.

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Although an investigation is continuing into the case, Wigal said he believes Trooper Kevin Plumer used proper judgment when he initiated the pursuit.

Amanda Smailes' father, John Smailes, did not fault the police. He said he hopes they were acting in the best interests of the community and were doing the best they could.

"I'm not going to second-guess what they did," Smailes said.

The motorist involved in the chase had allegedly been driving erratically, and at one point during the pursuit, the suspect lost control of his car and struck Plumer's cruiser, police said. Plumer was treated and released from City Hospital for a sprained wrist, police said.

Police had also pursued the same car about two hours earlier after it drove though a residential area at a high rate of speed, police said.

Troopers must consider a number of factors when deciding whether to chase a suspect, including the danger the suspect poses to the public and any crimes the person may have committed, said Sgt. Rob Blair. Troopers do not know whether the person has committed a crime, is drunk or is armed, Wigal said.

"They were proper at the time," Wigal said of Plumer's actions. "There's a lot of things that go through a trooper's mind," said Wigal.

The incident began about 1 a.m. when Plumer saw a car swerving off the shoulder of U.S. 11 near Inwood, police said. Plumer tried to pull over the driver of the car, but the suspect allegedly fled from the scene at a high rate of speed, police said.

Plumer chased the car north on U.S. 11 for several miles, and the suspect was driving eratically and forced several cars off the highway, police said. At the intersection of U.S. 11, W.Va. 9 and W.Va. 45 near Martinsburg, the suspect attempted to make a left turn onto W.Va. 45 but lost control, spun around in the intersection and collided with Plumer's cruiser, police said.

The pursuit then continued back the opposite direction on U.S. 11, Wigal said. Plumer began chasing the car again, and shortly before the automobile struck Smailes' vehicle, five more troopers entered the highway to assist Plumer, police said.

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