MOLINE ACRES, Mo. — Bellefontaine Neighbors Police Chief Jeremy Ihler said the officer who struck and killed Moline Acres Police Sgt. Herschel Turner while responding to a traffic stop early Saturday is “mentally broken.”
In an exclusive interview, Ihler shared what he knew of the investigation into the crash so far but cautioned there are still some unanswered questions.
“The public needs to know that we're in the middle of investigating a very comprehensive incident involving many moving parts and factors, so there are certain things right now that are an unknown,” he said.
Ihler said his officer was on his way to back up another Bellefontaine Neighbors officer who had pulled over a car near Chambers Road and Lance Drive for a traffic violation. Turner, who worked with the neighboring police department, was already on scene to back up the Bellefontaine Neighbors officer.
On his way to the traffic stop, the second Bellefontaine Neighbors officer saw a small silver sedan driving erratically in a nearby parking lot. The car got in front of him as he was heading to the traffic stop, and he tried to get the license plate on the car but couldn’t. So he sped up to catch up to it to run the plates, Ihler said.
He saw the car run a stop sign at Chambers Road and Coburg Lands Drive and as the officer and the car came over a crest along Chambers Road, he saw the car he was trying to catch up crash into his fellow officers’ cars. He also saw Turner standing to the left of the cars, somewhat in the traffic lane, and swerved to the right into a grassy area to avoid a collision, Ihler said.
“We can only tend to believe that Sgt. Turner felt that he was in a dangerous spot standing in the traffic lane after the collision, so we believe that he ran into the grassy area, which would have been the most likely thing to do for anybody,” Ihler said. “And he ran into the path of the police car at the same time.
“There was no way of knowing that that was going to happen.”
Ihler said police discovered the silver sedan had been stolen out of Vinita Park. All of the people inside ran from the car and remain on the loose. Police found a gun inside the car, too, he said.
Pictures Ihler provided show Turner’s Moline Acres police car was missing its front bumper, and the front driver’s side wheel had wedged under the Bellefontaine Neighbors police car that initiated the traffic stop. All of the airbags inside Turner’s car had deployed, too.
“The force with which that car hit them was incredible,” Ihler said.
Ihler said he does not yet know whether his officer had his body camera activated at the time of the crash.
The department does not have dash cameras.
And he does not yet know how fast his officer was driving or whether he had activated his lights and sirens while trying to catch up to the suspicious driver.
The department’s policy only allows officers to pursue fleeing felons.
“Right now, I have no evidence to suggest this was a pursuit,” Ihler said.
Ihler said his officer rushed to Turner’s side after striking him, rendered first aid and held him until paramedics arrived.
Because of his injuries, the officer didn't recognize Turner as the sergeant who always worked the same shift with him, and someone he considered a friend.
It wasn't until he saw Sgt. Turner's picture on TV newscasts that he recognized who he was, Ihler said.
"He was on the phone sobbing," Ihler said. "This was somebody he knew personally."
The officer has been with the Bellefontaine Neighbors department since 2017.
“I've had discussions with him and, in his words, ‘There are no words,’” Ihler said. “I mean, he is at a loss when he is trying to process what has happened.
“He had told me that he became a police officer to help people not to hurt people. And, and at the end of the day, he believes he is mentally broken right now because of it. And that's a pretty serious thing to say, and I believe that this is a normal reaction to something that is so traumatic. It’s something that he’s going to have to live with for a very long time.”
Ihler said other officers from surrounding jurisdictions who have survived traumatic experiences have offered to give him mental health support.
But the fact that the officer is sharing his raw feelings is a good sign, according to Ihler.
“With something this tragic, it is to me the logical response,” he said. “We do worry when we don't see this type of response after such an incident, like withdrawal, indifference. When you don't show anything in response to something like that, that's when we become very concerned.”
Ihler said his department is cooperating with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, which is investigating the crash, as well as St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell’s office. The department will also conduct an internal investigation to determine if any policies were violated, Ihler said.
Ihler said his department has also offered to help Moline Acres police answer calls for service, so its members can grieve.