EUSTIS, Florida—A Eustis Police officer has resigned following an internal investigation that resulted in a five-day suspension, for what EPD Chief Craig Capri called an “egregious policy violation.”
Austin Williams, a four-year veteran of the department, resigned earlier this month after an internal investigation showed he violated the department’s pursuit policy, by pursuing a vehicle for a minor traffic violation and reaching speeds of up to 113 miles per hour. The vehicle he was pursuing crashed outside EPD’s jurisdiction, according to the internal affairs report.
“Once we were made aware of the egregious policy violation, we investigated and took corrective action,” Capri told Inside Lake. “Our agency is very transparent, and we have zero tolerance for (violations of this nature.)”
Around 10:45 p.m. March 13, Williams attempted to pull over a vehicle that failed to stop before the stop bar at a stop sign at West Stevens Avenue and South Bay Street. The white Ford sedan made a quick turn into a nearby gas station and quickly exited the parking lot when Williams activated his emergency lights on his unmarked patrol car.
The car accelerated and Williams activated his sirens and the car fled; Williams pursued the vehicle on Bay Street, speeding as fast as 93 miles per hour, according to the report. Williams turned off his lights and sirens around Bay Street and Chesley Avenue and notified Eustis dispatch the vehicle was going to run the light at Bay Street and Ardice Avenue and he was Code 4 (terminating the stop)—but he did not terminate the pursuit.
Williams continued to pursue the vehicle south on Bay Street (State Road 19) and ran a solid red light at RaceTrac gas station at 36 miles per hour, traveling at 80 miles per hour by the time he reached Long John Silvers, 2880 South Bay Street. When he came to the next light at Bay Street and the southbound ramp to U.S. Highway 441, he was traveling at 108 miles per hour. A vehicle pulled out in front of Williams, causing him to change lanes and decrease his speed to just under 100 miles per hour. His body camera captured him saying an expletive as the vehicle pulls out.
As Williams left Eustis city limits, he was traveling 108 miles per hour; he turned onto to Bay Road at 78 miles per hour and ran the stop sign at Bay Road and Dodson Cutoff, near the now-defunct Roll-Air skating rink.
He then requested dispatch notify Mount Dora Police Department the vehicle was entering its jurisdiction at about 80 miles per hour and Williams continued to follow the car outside the City of Eustis, without any further communication of his location, the report states.
Williams then approached Old U.S. Highway 441 and applied his brakes but ran the red light at the intersection and states, “I’m losing my (expletive) brakes, I’m gonna lose my (expletive) job if I don’t stop.”
Later, in an interview, Williams said he made that statement because he then realized he had violated EPD’s pursuit policy and admitted he had put other uninvolved parties in harm’s way.
Williams continued down Bay Road until it dead-ends at Lakeshore Drive and made a left turn, he then manually turned his body camera off. His dash camera was on and captured him increasing his speed from 12 miles per hour to 76 miles per hour until he spotted the vehicle crashed, upside down and on fire in front of a home, located in Lake County Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction. Williams exited his unmarked patrol car, drew his gun, and began giving the driver continuous verbal commands to show his hands and exit the vehicle. EPD Dispatch asked Williams’ location, and he responded, “38 Eustis (Williams ID) I don’t know my cross, I’m on Lakeshore Drive in Mount Dora, the car is on fire and on its roof.”
Williams attempted to open the passenger door was only able to partially open it and he continued to give the driver loud verbal commands. The driver replied, “Help me,” in a soft, gentle voice, the report states. Williams yelled “Get out of the car,” and the driver stated, “I can’t move.”
Williams continued to give verbal commands to the driver and again pointed his weapon at the driver and made no further efforts to assist the driver while continuing to give him verbal commands, according to the report.
A second EPD officer arrived on scene and Williams holsters his weapon and tells the second officer to grab a fire extinguisher. Williams then pulled the driver from the car and the driver denied committing the original traffic violation. Multiple agencies arrived and began assisting and the driver was transported to the hospital for medical treatment. From the time Williams called in the traffic stop to the time of the crash was only 3 minutes 33 seconds, according to the report.
An EPD road patrol sergeant arrived soon after and Williams reportedly said, “I was not 10-31, I know that’s the first question you’re gonna ask;” 10-31 is code for “in pursuit.” Williams was later questioned during the investigation and said he did not believe he was pursuing the vehicle, he believed he was trying to “locate the vehicle.”
EPD found that Williams did violate policy and he was given a five-day suspension without pay. Williams served the suspension and resigned the following day.