'Senseless Act' Led To Death Of Bystander, Tahlequah Police Chief Says
TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma - Tahlequah Police are working to access radio communications that will help investigators piece together the moments leading up to a deadly crash after a man sped away from officers.
Investigators are planning to speak with the suspect, Aram Catron, who is still in critical condition.
"All Mr. Catron has to do was not steal from Walmart. Pull over when a police officer was behind him. And we wouldn't be sitting here today," Tahlequah Police Chief Nate King said.
A senseless act is how King describes the crime that led to the death of Malinda Philips.
"Our Thoughts and prayers really go out to the family of Malinda Philips today. Her husband her children her friends and family," King said.
Surveillance video shows the moments before the fatal crash.
Catron is seen in Walmart filling his cart with clothing. Next, he's seen walking out the door with what police say is a bag of stolen items.
When Catron is stopped by Walmart employees, he drops the bag, runs and drives away in a black truck.
"When he encountered a marshal later he was fleeing again, even at the mere sight of a police car. Not at red and blue lights, not at the sound of sirens, but just seeing a police officer is what caused him to flee again," King said.
The chief said Catron is no stranger to running from police.
"He has a pending felony case in Delaware County for eluding police officers. For leaving the scene of a personal injury accident. So, he's done this before it's just the person didn't die," he said.
King said the community and the police department are still mourning Phillips' death. He said the charges Catron might face could have him spend life in prison.
"This could carry up to first-degree murder based on the events leading up to it," King said.
There's a memorial at the crash site for Phillips, along with another memorial for someone who died at the intersection five years ago.
There are plans for a benefit dinner and auction on Saturday, February 3, 2018, to help support the Phillips family at Keys High School Cafeteria in Keys, Okla., which is about 10 miles south of Tahlequah. Plates of smoked pulled pork, bologna and brisket with sides will be sold for $5 each.