High Speed Chase Claims Three Lives in Southwestern Oklahoma

Two separate accidents during a high speed chase yesterday in Washita County, Oklahoma, killed a suspect and two law enforcement officers. According to reports, police attempted to serve an arrest warrant for Quentin Lee Johnson, 27, of Sentinel. Johnson fled, leading police on a high-speed chase before losing control of his truck and crashing into a "10-foot embankment or ravine." His crash was reported just after 10:00 a.m. Minutes later, and only three miles away from Johnson's crash site, two law enforcement vehicles pursuing the fleeing suspect collided at an intersection. Killed in the accident were Kristian Willhight, 36, of the Burns Flat Police Department, and Washita County Undersheriff Brian Beck, 39. Any time lives are lost during a high speed chase, it raises questions about whether such a risky pursuit is even necessary. Sometimes, in pursuing a violent offender, rapid apprehension may be necessary, but in other cases, preserving the public safety is better served by canceling a pursuit and serving a warrant at a later time. A quick search of Oklahoma court records shows that Quentin Johnson was a defendant in numerous cases in several different counties. At the time of the pursuit, he had outstanding warrants in Custer County and Washita County. However, none of these offenses seem to be particularly violent or dangerous, nor do they seem to merit a high speed pursuit:

  • Beckham County - Open container, driving without registration, speeding
  • Canadian County - Speeding and driving without a license
  • Custer County (Outstanding warrants) - Operating a commercial vehicle while CDL disqualified, failure to wear a seatbelt, driving while suspended, failure to carry security verification form
  • Ellis County - Driving without a license
  • Greer County - Misdemeanor assault, driving without a license
  • Roger Mills County - Speeding  and driving without registration
  • Washita County (Outstanding warrants) - Possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS), misdemeanor domestic assault and battery, driving without a license, failure to wear a seatbelt
With the exception of two misdemeanor assault cases in 2009 and 2013, nearly all of Johnson's criminal record consists of traffic violations. Washita County Undersheriff Brian Beck was attempting to serve an arrest warrant for felony drug possession after having discovered meth, drug paraphernalia, a gun, and ammunition at Johnson's home last month. Johnson allegedly admitted to using and selling methamphetamine. If obtaining an arrest warrant could wait a month, was a high speed pursuit necessary in serving the warrant? Law enforcement officials are often called upon to make quick decisions and to put their lives at risk for the protection of others. However, to protect their own safety and the safety of others, it is critical that the risks and benefits of any such decision are carefully weighed. In this case, three lives were lost in the pursuit of a non-violent drug offender who seems to have posed no immediate risk to the public safety. It's a sad story no matter how you look at it. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of those killed in this pursuit.