CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Anthony Pickel was gardening at his family’s home Saturday when he heard several gunshots and saw a Bradley County patrol car careen across the road and into a tree.
“The first thing that’s going through my mind is there’s going to a be a cop in there in uniform,” said Pickel, 46.
Instead, he saw a woman wearing a dress, slumped over and bleeding. He watched her arm flinch and heard her take several labored breaths.
“All of a sudden I look down at the driver’s door and there’s bullet holes in it,” he said. “I’m sitting there putting two and two together. I kept asking if she was all right, and she wouldn’t respond. ... Just about that time, cops come running from the interstate across the road. I got out of the way, and they took over.”
Pickel didn’t know that moments earlier, the woman had slashed Deputy Dustin Patrick with a knife on the side of Interstate 75 and zoomed off in his cruiser as he fired his service weapon trying to stop her.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has the job of untangling the frenzied moments that led up to the crash.
The woman, whose identity had not been released late Saturday, died at Erlanger hospital in Chattanooga, Bradley Sheriff’s Office spokesman Bob Gault said.
Patrick was cut on the hand and his injuries aren’t life-threatening, Gault said. He will remain on administrative leave with pay during the investigation.
Gault said several motorists called 911 on Saturday afternoon to report a woman and two small children were walking north on I-75.
Patrick, who joined the force in 2005, caught up with her at mile marker 22, got out of his cruiser and began talking with her, Gault said. While he was talking, she pulled a knife and began slashing at him, Gault said. Still slashing with the knife, she ran to the car and jumped in, leaving the children behind. It wasn’t clear Saturday whether she was in or out of the car when Patrick fired.
She roared north in the car but lost control just past the Harrison Pike overpass, careened through the fence and crashed into a tree at Harrison Pike and Third Street, Gault said.
As officers began searching for clues, they closed the northbound lanes of I-75 and set up a command post to coordinate the interagency investigation. Teams of officers canvassed in the I-75 median and others processed evidence at exit 20, where a stolen vehicle the woman was believed to have been driving was found. Still more officers examined the scene around the crashed cruiser.
The children were placed in the care of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, Gault said.
He and TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm said the investigation is continuing and more information may be available Sunday.
Staff writers Randall Higgins, Beth Burger, Carey O’Neil and Judy Walton contributed to this report.