State And Regional

3 men in custody after high-speed pursuits, crash that killed Bluffton police officer on I-75

BLUFFTON, OHIO — UPDATE @ 12:25 p.m. (April 1):

State troopers have released the names of three men accused in a series of high-speed pursuits that resulted in the death of a Bluffton police officer Thursday.

Emin Johnson, 20 and Zachary Love, 21, have been booked into the Hancock County Justice Center following the chases and deadly crash Thursday, state troopers said in an updated media release Friday.

Dante Tate, 19, has been booked in the Medina County Jail after a second pursuit ended in Elyria, near Cleveland.

Johnson is booked on a preliminary charge of involuntary manslaughter, according to online jail records. Love is booked on preliminary charges of receiving stolen property and failure to comply with an order or signal of a police officer, jail records show.

Tate’s mugshot and preliminary charges were not immediately available.

The trio is accused of leading state troopers on a pursuit that first started around 2 a.m. Thursday on U.S. 23 near Marion when a state trooper attempted to stop a speeding car. After the car got away, a state trooper near Findlay spotted the car get on I-75 south and started to pursue it, state troopers said.

As the pursuit continued south on I-75 around 2:30 a.m. Officer Dominic Francis, 42, a nine-year veteran of the Bluffton Police Department, was hit by the car and died from his injuries while trying to deploy a tire deflation device, state troopers said.

Additional details were not available. We’ll continue to update this story as we learn more.

FIRST REPORT (March 31):

A Bluffton, Ohio police office was hit by a car and killed while trying to deploy a tire deflation device during a high-speed pursuit on I-75 in Hancock County, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

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Officer Dominic Francis, 42, a nine-year veteran of the Bluffton force, was identified as the officer killed Thursday morning, Ohio State Highway Patrol Sgt. Brice Nihiser during said a news conference. Francis was also a school bus driver, teacher, and youth sports coach, Bluffton Police Chief Ryan Burkholder added during the news conference.

Bluffton is located about 100 miles north of Dayton, between Lima and Findlay.

The incident started as a high-speed pursuit in Marion County when a car was spotted traveling at a high rate of speed around 2 a.m. A state trooper picked up the pursuit around 2:20 a.m. when they spotted the car getting onto I-75. Speeds in the pursuit reached up to 130 mph during this part of the chase.

Around 2:30 a.m., as the pursuit continued on I-75, Francis attempted to place a tire deflation device on I-75 near state Route 103 in Bluffton when the car hit and killed him, Nihiser said.

Three people inside the car fled the scene and later stole another vehicle around 3 a.m. on County Road 29, just miles south of where the deadly crash happened on the highway. One suspect was taken into custody near the location where the car was stolen.

A second pursuit ensued and later ended miles away in Elyria, near Cleveland, after a state trooper spotted the vehicle on I-71. A second suspect was taken into custody after this pursuit, Nihiser said.

The third suspect was arrested just before 1 p.m., state troopers said in an updated media release. The location of the arrest wasn’t immediately released.

I-75 was shut down in both directions for hours but reopened around 10:30 a.m. The incident and suspect search in Bluffton prompted school closures, lockdowns, and shelter-in-place orders, according to CBS affiliate WTOL-TV.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued the following statement, “Fran and I are sad to learn of the death of Bluffton Police Officer Dominic Francis, who tragically died today after being hit by a fleeing driver. We are grateful to him for his selfless service to Ohio, and our hearts go out to his family and his colleagues at the Bluffton PD.”

“A hero has died and a community is shaken. The bravery of the men and women that wear the badge is astounding. Officer Francis’ valor will live on and never be forgotten. My deepest condolences are with Officer Francis’ loved ones and the residents of Bluffton,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said in a statement.

DeWine also ordered the United States and Ohio flags be lowered to half-staff on all public buildings and grounds through Hancock and Allen counties, the Ohio Statehouse, the Vern Riffe Center and the Rhodes State Office Tower until sunset on the day of Francis’ funeral.

We’ll continue to update this story as we learn more.