Sheriff defends pursuit of man claiming to be ‘God’
Lapeer — The Lapeer County sheriff acknowledged that authorities had several chances to take a suicidal Macomb County man into custody over a half-hour, 22-mile pursuit before he fatally ran into an Oakland County Sheriff’s deputy early Thursday.
Lapeer County Sheriff Scott McKenna speaks on November 24, 2017 speaks about the death of Oakland County Sheriff's deputy Eric Overall on Thanksgiving morning.
But Sheriff Scott McKenna defended his officers’ actions, saying “there is nothing to prepare you for something like this.”
McKenna detailed on Friday how the suspect showed up at the Lapeer County Jail about 11:40 p.m. Wednesday identifying himself as “God” and saying he was “there to break out one of his sons (followers) being held there in violation of man-made laws.”
The suspect, whose name is being withheld, is accused of fleeing police and killing Oakland County Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Overall while he was being pursued.
The suspect was not injured in the pursuit and is expected to be formally charged Saturday in Rochester Hills 52-3 District Court via video conference. He is being held in the Macomb County Jail.
McKenna stressed he believed while the suspect sounded confused, the man did not appear armed, was not speeding and did not break any laws despite making threats of a break-out.
“I think my officers acted appropriately … I’m proud of them,” McKenna told reporters Friday.
Initially, the man stepped out of his vehicle outside the jail and briefly talked with jail deputies over an intercom before he fled the parking lot in his car. He drove to the nearby Thumb Correctional Facility, where he repeated his threat to a state officer before driving away, according to authorities.
Deputies presumed the man was confused and delusional, and they used their discretion to follow him at a safe distance at around 55 miles per hour, McKenna said. They also deactivated their overhead flashing lights on their patrol car.
The man pulled over on westbound Interstate 69, several miles away. McKenna said the man was driving safely — at or under the speed limit — and appropriately using his turn signal to make lane changes.
At one point, McKenna said the man noticed the patrol car and finally pulled off on the road shoulder but stayed inside his locked car.
When approached and questioned by a deputy, he repeated his boast of being “God” and not recognizing state laws. At one point, he threatened to take off seat belt and commit suicide by driving his car into a tree before suddenly driving off.
Deputies, joined by the Metamora police department, followed behind “at posted speeds” in three marked patrol cars with flashing overhead lights, McKenna said.
A few miles later, after passing into Genesee County, the man exited onto M-15 and headed south toward Oakland County where Overall had been stationed at Seymour Lake Road in Brandon Township, planning on placing “stop sticks” across the road to disable the man’s vehicle. Before that could happen, the pursuing deputies said the man apparently turned his car, fatally struck Overall and drove into a swampy area about 12:31 a.m.
Pursuing officers said they fell back when they saw the Oakland County SUV Overall was driving at the intersection and were not aware Overall had been struck, McKenna said. They pulled the suspect out of his vehicle and handcuffed without further incident.
“They did everything they could for him (Overall),” said McKenna, noting he was pronounced deceased at an area hospital.
“This was a deliberate act, no doubt in my mind,” McKenna said of the deputy being run over. “He hit his brakes and went at a 90-degree (angle) and hit the deputy.
“Ultimately, the man made the decision to kill a man, to kill a deputy, to kill a husband.”
McKenna refused to “Monday morning quarterback” officers’ decisions not to disable the man’s vehicle, even when it was stopped and they were standing next to it, or to “box it in” with patrol cars.
“As officers, you go through all kinds of training, but there is nothing to prepare you for something like this: A man showing up at the jail and making statements and then driving away,” he said.
Oakland County deputies were spotted at the intersection Friday afternoon appearing to be collecting evidence and taking measurements at the scene as part of their investigation.
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said Overall’s death has “left a big hole in the department and in the lives of those who knew him.”
“He had had a great reputation, well-thought of and had a huge impact on kids at schools where he had been assigned,” Bouchard said. “I can’t tell you how many co-workers called me up or have described him as ‘selfless’ and ‘taking care of everyone else besides himself.’ ”
McKenna, who choked up on a couple occasions during the press conference, expressed condolences for Overall’s family, friends and co-workers. He also said his own officers — up to seven of them — were hurting over their involvement in the incident and were in need of grief counseling.
Overall, 50, is survived by a wife, Sonja, and an adult son. Visitation will be from 3-8 p.m. Monday at Mt. Zion Church, which is at 4900 Maybee Road in Independence Township.
A funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the church to be followed by a private procession for family and Oakland County Sheriff’s Office members.
A Thanksgiving night candlelight vigil at the Fallen Heroes Memorial on Telegraph Road outside the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office drew more than 100 people to honor Overall.
Another candlelight vigil and ribbon tying ceremony is planned in the Ortonville business district near Mill and South at 4 p.m. Sunday.
Overall had received commendations several times, including criminal investigations and helping to save the life of a student at Walled Lake Central High while he was an officer assigned to the school.
A parent of another student told The Detroit News of how Overall treated her son during a difficult time for him.
“When my son, Troy, was in middle school (he’s in 10th grade now), he was being bullied by another student,” said Michelle Venticinque Holderbaum, 55, of Ortonville. “This student took my son’s phone, which he saved to buy by himself, and smashed it to the floor, breaking all the glass.
“Deputy Overall took a personal interest in my son when he found out he was being bullied. He contacted the bully’s family to reimburse my son to repair the phone. He went to their house to pick up a payment, and when they stopped paying, Deputy Overall took money from his own pocket so my son could fix his phone.”
A GoFundMe has been established in Overall’s memory to help his family with future expenses. As of Friday, it had raised more than $44,000.
Staff Writer Sarah Rahal contributed.