By Dave Russell
A Sylva man attempting to run from police drove the wrong way on U.S. 23/74 and smashed into an oncoming vehicle at an estimated 80 mph around 8:30 p.m. last Wednesday, July 21.
Dalton Grey Suttles, 20, of Sylva, faces charges in the incident, which killed one man and seriously injured another.
The high-speed chase began when a Haywood County deputy spotted Suttles driving on N.C. 209. The vehicle, a 1999 Chevrolet Tahoe, had a fictitious tag, according to N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper Samantha Hyatt.
The deputy confirmed Suttles had outstanding felony warrants and attempted a traffic stop, according to a release from the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office.
Suttles refused to stop and continued driving westbound on U.S. 23/74 towards Jackson County. Officers from the Waynesville Police Department joined in the chase and the N.C. Highway Patrol and Jackson County Sheriff’s Office were notified.
“When he crossed over into Jackson County, he continued traveling westbound on U.S. 23/74 until making a right-hand turn onto Skyland Drive and turned right onto Dark Ridge,” Hyatt said.
The chase continued on Dark Ridge Road until Suttles made his way to Balsam Loop Road.
“The vehicle intentionally then made a left hand turn and traveled westbound in the eastbound lane to about mile marker 92,” Hyatt said. Law enforcement did not pursue Suttles while he was driving the wrong way, she said.
“He was traveling in what would be the number one lane (left) and avoided a collision with another vehicle and when he avoided that collision, he and the other vehicle met head-on,” she said.
Suttles hit a 2005 Nissan Titan pickup truck driven by Rafael Mandez, 46, of Asheville. He was taken to a hospital and treated for minor injuries, Hyatt said.
In the front passenger seat sat Rafael Mandez’ brother, Ricardo Mandez, 41, of Asheville. He suffered serious injuries and remained in critical condition at Mission Hospital in Asheville as of Friday morning. A Mountain Area Medical Airlift helicopter landed at the Balsam Fire Department and airlifted Ricardo Mandez to Mission.
The Titan’s third passenger, Zenen F. Lopez-Guzman, 46, of Asheville, died on the scene.
Suttles was driving an estimated 80 mph at the time of impact, while the Nissan was traveling about 55 mph, the speed limit on that stretch of road, Hyatt said.
The N.C. Highway Patrol Reconstruction Unit was called to further investigate the incident and more closely nail down the speeds, she said.
Hyatt could not tell if either vehicle had braked.
“There were some skidmarks, but the collision happened quickly at a high rate of speed,” she said.
No other vehicles were involved.
Eastbound traffic was held up for about three hours, she said. The westbound lanes were closed for a short period when the accident first occurred.
“The Haywood County Sheriff’s Office filed the majority of the charges,” Hyatt said. “There are some charges pending to come. The Highway Patrol, just investigating the crash, I charged him with a DWI. It’s believed to be drug-related and the drug results are pending.”
Suttles was also charged with six counts of felony failing to appear, two counts of trafficking methamphetamine, a misdemeanor failure to appear and fleeing to elude arrest.
He remains held without bail in the Haywood County Detention Center.
All hands on deck
A crowd of law enforcement and first responders showed up.
“The scene was so hectic it was all hands on deck,” Hyatt said.
Personnel from the Balsam Fire Department, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, Waynesville Police Department, N.C. Highway Patrol, Jackson County EMS, Haywood County EMS, Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, Harris EMS, the State Bureau of Investigation, Assistant District Attorneys Chris Matheson and Andy Bucker, Chief Assistant District Attorney Jeff Jones, Jackson County Emergency Management and Jackson County Maintenance.
“Our deputies responded to assist but we were not involved in the pursuit,” Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Matt Wike said. “The JCSO assisted at the crash scene by providing traffic control as well as logistic support with our light tower.”
“We are deeply saddened by the tragedy that occurred when Mr. Suttles made his choice to intentionally drive the wrong way on a highway which led to the crash that took the life of an innocent person,” Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher said. “Suttles’ choices have changed the lives of the innocent, their families, and everyone else involved in this incident to include the law enforcement officers and first responders that assisted.
“Choices like the one Suttles made tear at the very core of our society. If he had complied with the law when requested by law enforcement to stop his vehicle on the shoulder of the road, this tragedy would have been avoided. Our sincere prayers are with the families of the victims. Rest assured, this case will be brought to justice.”