By J. Patrick Pepper
Times-Herald Staff Reporter
A 48-year-old Inkster man was shot dead last week after slamming a sport utility vehicle into two police cruisers and nearly running an officer over, police said. The shooting took place at the Van Born Road on-ramp to Southfield Freeway at about 8 a.m. Feb. 6 after the driver, identified as Willie Allan Thomas, led police on a four-mile chase through Inkster and Dearborn Heights. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Oakwood Hospital and Medical Center. The shooting caused a closure of southbound Southfield for nearly four hours as Michigan State Police investigators combed the scene for evidence. The incident remains under investigation, and the officer who fired the shots is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome. According to police reports, the incident began as a routine traffic stop.
After receiving a call about a suspected drunken driver in the area of John Daly and Carlysle, Inkster police signaled for Thomas to pull over his green Jeep Liberty, but Thomas disobeyed the officer’s commands and began speeding away. With school starting shortly, Inkster police decided not to pursue Thomas due to concerns about children walking through the neighborhood.
But when a Dearborn Heights officer spotted Thomas traveling east at the intersection of Campbell and Van Born — a nonresidential street — he began to follow the vehicle while waiting for backup.
Another unit finally arrived near the Southfield on-ramp, and the two cruisers proceeded to block Thomas from entering the freeway. But when one of the officers exited his car to make an arrest, police said Thomas reversed his Jeep into the cruiser behind him, then slammed into the cruiser in front of him before almost running down the officer that had exited his car.
That’s when the officer fired four shots, causing the Jeep to veer down Southfield a few hundred feet before finally running into a dividing wall.
“He had no other choice,” Capt. Jeff Seipenko said of the officer’s decision. “He felt like his life was in danger.” According to Michigan Department of Correction records, Thomas had several previous brushes with law enforcement, including serving a nine-year prison stint for armed robbery and another incident of fleeing police. In published reports Thomas’s relatives defended their dead family member, saying he didn’t drink or smoke and was not the man his rap sheet made him out to be.
The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office had not yet completed toxicology tests at the time this story went to press.