Bell sheriff's deputy, dog killed as car hits cruiser
By Bill Estep
A Bell County sheriff's deputy, Sean Pursifull, was killed early Thursday, Jan. 10, when a suspect fleeing police crashed into his car. The violent collision also killed his drug-search dog.
The teen driving the car that hit Pursifull's cruiser veered off the road and hit the right side of the deputy's car as he sat waiting to assist state police in the pursuit, said Trooper Walt Meachum, spokesman for the Harlan state police post.
"They drove straight off the road, no brakes or nothing, just slammed right into the side of him," Meachum said.
Pursifull, 31, and his dog, King, died at the scene.
Police said the driver was a 17-year-old boy from Delaware. A 16-year-old boy from Pennsylvania was a passenger in the car.
Both juveniles have been charged with murder of a police officer and assault on a service animal. They are likely to be charged with additional crimes, such as fleeing police.
State police were working to reconstruct and investigate the crash; it wasn't clear why the two juveniles were in Southeastern Kentucky, Meachum said.
Bell County Sheriff Bruce Bennett said he understood the teens might have been runaways.
County Attorney Neil Ward said murder of a police officer is a potential capital offense. Before the death penalty would apply, however, the teens would have to be certified as adults; that requires a hearing, and only certain cases meet the criteria.
Bennett said he hoped the two teens would be tried as adults, convicted and sentenced to death.
"They've taken the life of a fine young man, a young officer, a young father, for no reason," Bennett said.
Bennett said Pursifull had been a police officer with his department for about four years and had been with the Pineville police department earlier. He was married and had two young daughters, the sheriff said.
Police did not release the names of the suspects because they are under 18. They are being held in Adair County, which has a regional juvenile-detention facility.
Didn't pay for gas
The chase started after employees at an Exxon station in Baxter, in neighboring Harlan County, reported that someone had driven off without paying for gas about 12:30 a.m. Troopers Rob Farley and Ken Abner saw the car, a black 2002 Mazda, traveling south on U.S. 119 and clocked it speeding 16 mph over the limit, state police said.
The officers tried to stop the car, but the driver sped away and police chased the car toward Bell County.
The chase covered about 25 miles. The teen driver hit speeds above 100 miles an hour at times and forced several cars off the road, Ward said.
State police called ahead to Bell County to see whether an officer was available and Pursifull responded, Bennett said.
Pursifull was parked beside the road, his blue lights on, waiting to help state police when the driver of the Mazda crossed the road and hit him. Police had been chasing the teen southbound; Pursifull was parked off the northbound side of the road, state police said.
The collision occurred at Page, 3 or 4 miles from Pineville. The teens' car rammed almost all the way through the deputy's cruiser, Meachum said.
Another state police officer was stationed just past the crash site, getting ready to put out spikes to deflate the tires on the Mazda before the chase entered Pineville, Meachum said.
The two teens received minor injuries. They were treated at the hospital in Pineville before being jailed.
Bennett said Pursifull was an excellent police officer, and that Pursifull and King were very close. The dog will be recognized along with the officer, he said.
It has been many years since a Bell County police officer was killed in the line of duty.
"It's a difficult time," Bennett said.
Visitation for Pursifull will be Saturday, Jan. 12, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Arnett & Steele Funeral Home in Pineville. The funeral will be Sunday, Jan. 13, at 2 p.m. in the gymnasium at Bell County High School.
Pursifull is survived by his wife, Melonie Deana Horn Pursifull; daughters Victoria Alexis and Franki Seantae; mother Bernice Mills; and other relatives.
The Bell County Sheriff’s Office has set up a memorial fund for Pursifull’s family. Donations can be mailed to Anthony Sean Pursifull Memorial Fund, First State Financial, P.O. Box 37, Pineville, Ky. 40977, or dropped off at any First State Financial location.
Published in Lexington Herald-Leader from Jan. 11 to Jan. 16, 2008