EDDYVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky state trooper who made a traffic stop was trying to arrange for lodging for the vehicle’s occupants when the driver took off, starting a tragic chain of events that led to the deaths of the lawman and the suspect, police said Monday.
Trooper Joseph Cameron Ponder, 31, was shot by the suspect a short time later during a second stop late Sunday in a rural area of western Kentucky, said Trooper Jay Thomas, a state police spokesman.
Ponder, a Navy veteran, had been on the state police force less than a year.
The suspect, 25-year-old Joseph Thomas Johnson-Shanks of Florissant, Missouri, ran away and was found hours later after a massive overnight manhunt in a wooded area about 9 miles from the initial stop and less than a mile from where the trooper had been gunned down, Thomas said.
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Johnson-Shanks drew a weapon at a state police trooper, ignored commands to drop his weapon and was shot, Thomas said. He died later at a hospital.
Ponder made the initial stop because the suspect was driving 103 mph while heading westbound on Interstate 24, Thomas said Monday night.
Thomas said at the first stop, Ponder discovered Johnson-Shanks’ operator’s license was suspended and neither of the other adults in the car had a driver’s license. Thomas said Ponder was trying to make arrangements for a hotel for the night so someone could come for Johnson-Shanks and the others.
An 18-year-old woman in the car, Johnson-Shanks’ niece, Ambrea R.J. Shanks of Florissant, was charged with first-degree hindering prosecution or apprehension and taken to jail Monday, police said. Another woman and two young children were also in the car, police said.
“He was trying to help them out, and for an unknown reason, the driver fled,” Thomas said.
“At the initial stop, it was his intent to put them all in a hotel without having to apprehend the driver,” Thomas said. “… After he initiated the pursuit, I’m sure his mind was changed on that.”
Ponder pursued the suspect, with speeds reaching up to 115 mph, Thomas said.
The chase ended when the suspect’s car stopped abruptly, and the front side of the trooper’s cruiser nudged the rear side of the suspect’s vehicle, Thomas said.
“At that point, the suspect leaned out of the driver-side window and fired multiple rounds at the trooper’s car, striking the hood, the windshield and striking our trooper,” Thomas said.
Ponder was hit by the gunfire and was taken to a hospital, where he died shortly before midnight.
Ponder had graduated from the Kentucky State Police training academy in January and was stationed at the state police post in Mayfield, police said. He was single and a Navy veteran.
Late Monday afternoon, several dozen people from law enforcement agencies and the public formed a semi-circle for a vigil on the front lawn of Ponder’s post. As flags fluttered at half-staff, prayers were said, and visitors walked around afterward shaking the hands of law enforcement officers who attended.
“He was very proud to be a Kentucky State trooper,” Thomas said. “He was new, he was eager and just absolutely loved his job.”
State police spokesman Sgt. Michael Webb said Ponder was in the Navy for several years and stationed in Hawaii for some of that time. Ponder had been a Navy diver, Webb said.
State police said several law enforcement agencies, as well as helicopters and dogs, were used to help with search efforts. Thomas said there are numerous vacant summer homes in the area.
A 9-mile stretch of Interstate 24 was shut down while investigators collected evidence but had been reopened by Monday afternoon, police said.
Shawn McGuire, a St. Louis County police spokesman, said Johnson-Shanks had been arrested in August 2014 for failing to appear in an unspecified case. In May of this year, investigators began searching for him for questioning in the theft of lottery tickets.
Ponder is the second trooper from the Mayfield post to be killed in the line of duty this year.
In June, 23-year-old Erick K. Chrisman died in a traffic crash while responding to a reckless driving complaint. He had also graduated from the police academy in January.
“We’re all just holding together the best that we can and just continue to do our jobs,” Thomas said.
“We face dangers every day that … we put our uniform on and we go out to protect the public,” Thomas said. “It’s part of our job. We know the risks that are out there and we accept those risks.”
Gov. Steve Beshear called the shooting a “tragic reminder of the risks that our law enforcement officers face every day just by putting on their uniform and doing their job.”
“That he was killed in the line of duty makes his death memorable, but we must never forget the most significant part of Trooper Joseph Cameron Ponder’s story: how he lived, his selfless service to others, and his willingness to give his life for that commitment,” the governor said.
Associated Press Writer Jim Suhr in St. Louis contributed to this report.