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Witnesses, officers talk about chase, other events that led to wreck that killed woman in Houston

Ray Powers was stunned Tuesday when a Ford pickup plowed into his family’s Peach County yard.

He and his family rushed to the aid of the driver, who they discovered sitting in the truck smoking what police say was a crack pipe.

The driver, 24-year-old Sarah Lynne Waller of Bonaire, lost her life later the same afternoon after a multiple-vehicle wreck police say she caused at Ga. 96 and Houston Lake Road in Houston County. She had fled from a Peach County deputy who discontinued the chase for safety reasons. police say.

Waller died en route from the crash to The Medical Center of Central Georgia, Georgia State Patrol trooper Derrek Lumsden said last week.

PEACH FAMILY TRIES TO HELP

The series of events that led up to the fatal wreck began when Powers called 911 from his Housers Mill Road home near Byron in the north end of the county, Peach County sheriff’s Capt. Kenny Cameron said. The family found Waller smoking a crack pipe in her pickup in their yard at 1:35 p.m., Cameron said.

Waller had barrelled down the family’s private driveway at the end of Housers Mill Road at about 90 mph before locking up her brakes and skidding 500 feet toward the woods of the 20-acre property.

“The music was wide open,” recalled Powers, who with his wife and teenaged son raced to the pickup. “She was smoking some kind of drug in a homemade pipe.”

Powers, who owns a construction company, said he took the keys out of the ignition, and the family called 911 and attempted to keep Waller at bay until police arrived.

Powers said he tried to talk with the young woman but couldn’t understand what she was saying, and that she appeared to be under the influence.

Powers and his family stepped back a few feet. He said he was worried Waller might have a gun, and in her state of her mind, he was concerned for his and his family’s safety. They called 911 a second time because a deputy hadn’t arrived, he said.

Waller apparently had another set of keys because she was able to restart the truck. She sped off, Powers said.

“We did all we could do,” he said.

DEPUTY SEARCHES FOR PICKUP

Peach County deputy Robert Shannon was on his way to the Powers’ home when he received a dispatch at 1:43 p.m. that the driver had fled, Cameron said.

The deputy began looking for the pickup in the immediate area but wasn’t able to find it. He stopped by the Powers’ home and then spotted Waller’s vehicle on Ga. 96 at Aultman Road. The pickup was westbound, Cameron said.

Waller did a U-turn, as did the deputy, with the deputy now following the eastbound pickup on Ga. 96. The deputy pulled up behind Waller at the traffic light at Ga. 96 and U.S. 41 and attempted to pull her over. But when the light changed, Waller drove off, Cameron said.

The deputy ended the 2.5-mile pursuit for safety reasons as they approached the intersection of Lake Joy Road and Ga. 96.

Waller continued east on Ga. 96, but weaved in and out of traffic stopped at Lake Joy Road, Cameron said.

Knowing a school was along the path of Waller’s pickup truck on Ga. 96, the deputy “eased on down the road,” Cameron said.

Shortly thereafter, the deputy reached a Houston County High School crossing guard, who told him a crash had just happened at Ga. 96 and Houston Lake Road. Waller, who was still traveling east in the pickup, had traveled into the westbound lanes, sideswiped another vehicle, and rolled the pickup several times. She was ejected from the truck and run over by a third vehicle, trooper Lumsden said.

Jodi Greene, 35, of Marshallville, the driver of the sideswiped westbound Ford Edge, was treated and released from Houston Medical Center the same day, Lumsden said. David O’Neal, 27, of Roberta, the driver of the third vehicle, was not injured, said Georgia State Patrol Cpl. Richard Peck.

WITNESSES TALK ABOUT THE CRASH

Fred Denson, a Macon real estate agent, had just turned west onto Ga. 96 off Houston Lake Road, when he almost found himself in the crash.

“I look up and see this truck whirling in front of me,” Denson said. “No exaggeration. It had to be 6 feet off the ground — whirling like a tornado.”

Denson immediately turned off Ga. 96 into a convenience store at the corner and out of the way of the pickup truck as it crashed to the pavement.

“I’ve never in my life seen so much metal flying,” Denson said. “It was just everywhere. It was all over the road.”

Alnisa Davis, 34, of Kathleen, was carrying her tray to find a seat at the Subway on Ga. 96 when she saw the eastbound speeding pickup jump the median and flip in the air.

“It was just something like out of a movie,” Davis said.

She, like Denson and many others in the restaurants and stores near the intersection, rushed to aid the victims. The car that was sideswiped was in a ditch.

Amid the rubble was a child’s seat. Fear gripped the witnesses that a baby might have been in the pickup. But Waller was the only person in the truck. The car seat belonged to a friend, Lumsden said.

Several people called 911. Many also used their cell phones to take photographs of the wreckage. Davis said she was near a woman who got down on her knees and began praying for the victim.

“We prayed, too,” Davis said.

When Denson later learned that Waller had fled from police and that she was only 24, the question he said he couldn’t shake was, “Why?”

“It’s really close to Christmas,” Denson says. “It really hits you.”

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 923-3109, extension 243.

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