By the Way

Were cops right to chase an SUV with a baby inside? Sheriff says yes

Celeste Williams
Celeste Williams

Dick McGill called the Sun Herald newsroom Sunday after finding nothing in the news about a harrowing accident he and his family had watched Saturday morning at the entrance to downtown Ocean Springs.

He was in town from Alabama with his wife and daughter for a tennis tournament. They were sitting at the red light at Washington Avenue on the north side of U.S. 90 when he heard sirens scream. He checked his rear-view mirror and saw a line of blue lights flashing on the Fort Bayou bridge.

At the head of the line was 23-year-old Celeste Williams of Ocean Springs, driving a gray GMC Yukon.

Williams ran the red light, missing the McGills’ vehicle by inches. McGill, his wife and their 10-year-old daughter watched as a second SUV, which had the right of way, T-boned the Yukon on U.S. 90.

McGill said his daughter had never witnessed an auto accident. She heard tires screech and watched auto parts fly. She was terrified.

The main thing McGill wanted to know was why officers chased Williams’ SUV into a high-traffic area on a Saturday morning. Were lives in danger? Was the driver an imminent threat to the public?

Turns out, she is an alleged auto thief. The Ocean Springs Police Department sent out an alert Saturday morning about a Gray Yukon stolen from the Woodhaven subdivision, where the woman lives. Detective Terry Hines said the alert noted Williams had her 9-month-old baby in the Yukon.

A police dispatch to other departments noted the baby might be in danger.

A deputy pulled over the Yukon in St. Martin. Williams refused to get out of the SUV, so the deputy stunned her with a Taser. Nevertheless, she drove off. And so the chase began.

Sheriff Mike Ezell said Monday the alert from Ocean Springs came across as an auto theft involving an endangered child. The risk of chasing the vehicle versus letting it go had to be weighed, he said.

“What is the correct answer?” he asked “When you’ve got information that there’s a stolen car with an endangered child inside, you’re going to try to stop that vehicle.”

He said deputies slowed the pursuit as it neared the busy intersection.

But McGill said if he had been the suspect, he would have assumed the law was still after him because blue lights and sirens were running.

He and a clerk at a convenience store on the corner had the same question: Wasn’t it obvious this chase would end in an accident?

Not necessarily, Sheriff Ezell said. Sometimes, suspects relent and pull over.

He said the driver also appeared to be impaired. He believes deputies did the right thing because they needed to get her off the road.

Detective Hines said more charges could be filed in the case against Williams.

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99