published Sunday, August 25th, 2013

Wild ride from Brainerd Road preceded bloody ending in Dalton

It started with a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup on a Saturday afternoon and ended in blood.

At first, police thought Darryl T. Roberts, a gaunt, 6-foot-5 man known as "Too Tall," was a robber. They handcuffed him on the evening of Aug. 17 at the Brainerd Road CVS Pharmacy, where he had gone for candy. Officers believed he was involved with a holdup at a nail salon an hour earlier.

Roberts had been in trouble before. His criminal record shows at least eight arrests, and in 2000, he was convicted of aggravated robbery. He has a violent history, Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd said.

Still, this time Roberts was innocent, police would say later.

Minutes after police put him in the back of a squad car, he found himself involved in a strange, at times almost comical, kidnapping and high-speed chase that ended with a horror he can't erase from his mind.

Police drove him to the Economy Inn on Brainerd Road where they were seeking other suspects in the robbery at Tiffany Nails. Room 217 had been Roberts' room, but he said he had rented it to a friend who was letting two other men stay there.

At the room, officers were confronted by a man wearing an FBI hat and a fake badge.

The man, later identified as Antonio Sheffield, of Gulfport, Miss., told the officers they were messing up his case.

He "played it up like he was an FBI agent," Dodd said.

Police didn't believe him.

Guns were drawn, shots exchanged. The fake FBI agent ran, and police chased after.

Dodd believes Roberts knew Sheffield, but Roberts says not.

Sheffield and Roberts were about to meet.

One officer from the car had gotten out to cover the perimeter around the hotel. Sheffield spotted the officer and shot at him. A sergeant who was near the car ran to back up his men.

A wounded Sheffield and the sergeant rushed toward each other. Then, bam!

"Him and the sergeant almost run face to face with each other," Dodd said. "He hit the sergeant in the face with the pistol, cutting his eye."

Sheffield limped away from the exchange. There was no one between him and the patrol car.

All the while, Roberts was sitting in the back, watching events unfold.

As Sheffield approached the police car, Roberts had one thought:

"'Seriously, man, I hope this door is locked.' And it wasn't," Roberts said in an interview last week.

Sheffield got inside with a .410-caliber revolver.

"He was like, 'Man, I'm hit,'" said Roberts. "I said, 'Bro, you all right?'"

Roberts began to plead with Sheffield as the armed man pulled away in the stolen cruiser.

"'Man, open my door and let me out,'" Roberts said.

Sheffield didn't stop, and cars of cops came barreling after.

"The chase was on," Dodd said.

It started slowly at first.

"I don't think [Sheffield] had the car where it needed to be gear-wise," Roberts said.

Sheffield asked Roberts for directions to the interstate. He was losing blood from a gunshot wound in his leg. Sheffield drove through parking lots and meandered up and down Brainerd Road, said Roberts.

"We went behind the CVS. ... We drove all the way down to Tunnel Boulevard. Made a right on Tunnel Boulevard. A left by the car wash, went out behind the bank. Came back out on Brainerd Road, came down and turned by the Little Caesar's. Went around the parking lot, came the wrong way through the drive-through with the Chick-fil-A and went across the curb and went up the street and then made a right on East Brainerd Road and then went to the freeway."

Throughout the ride, Sheffield was slumping.

"He had to be bleeding pretty badly," said Roberts.

Once on the interstate, Sheffield fumbled for the lights and picked up speed. More and more police took up pursuit.

"Every exit we passed on the freeway, the police got behind us," Roberts said.

Sheffield wanted to use the cruiser's blue lights and asked Roberts how to turn them on.

Roberts replied: "Hell, I don't know. I've never been in the front seat before."

Roberts begged Sheffield not to wreck as the wounded fugitive swerved around in traffic. When the car reached Dalton, Sheffield steered around some spike strips thrown by officers waiting nearby.

But when a third strip was tossed in the middle of the road, Sheffield swerved and struck a truck. The car rolled across the grass.

What happened next, Roberts could not have expected.

Sheffield pulled out the powerful revolver that was loaded with shotgun shells. Without a word, he pointed it at his own head and pulled the trigger.

Officers converged on the patrol car with guns raised.

"They snatched me out of the car so fast ..." Roberts said.

Roberts was taken to the Whitfield County Jail. Authorities returned his ID to him by 1:30 a.m. He was free to go, but he had no way to get home.

And Sheffield's blood had stained the left leg of his faded black jeans.

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@times freepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.

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