A guy who did not want to pay his bus fare and was removed by East St. Louis Police on Wednesday morning decided to steal one of their cruisers, sped off and caused a three-car crash that killed a Belleville newlywed.
The Belleville woman killed in the crash was fresh from her honeymoon after getting married five days ago. She was identified by relatives and police as Maxsimillion Leshelle Quarles Gaston, 41, of 1924 Muren Blvd. in Belleville. She was headed to her job as a counselor for the Veterans Administration and had another 19 blocks to go.
The tragedy started before 8:30 a.m. Wednesday at 80th and State Street when officers escorted a man from a Metro Bus who refused to pay the fare. They were letting him go when he jumped in a squad car.
"Officers realized he was taking the car and tried to catch up to him but a short time later he was involved in the three-car crash that led to the fatality," Assistant Police Chief Ronald O. Ike said.
A Bible and three copies of the Jehovah's Witnesses' publication The Watchtower were in the street near Gaston's car. She began a personal ministry in honor of her son, Christopher Quarles, after he died at age 17 playing a pick-up basketball game on April 3, 2003, at Belleville West High School.
"She always loved being there for people. She loved helping people," said her aunt, Libby Quarles. "She was a counselor for the VA, had her master's degree and was planning to go back for her doctorate in psychology."
She is survived by two sons, ages 21 and 24, as well as her new husband.
Gaston was driving a white 2001 Mercury Sable when she was hit and killed. She was pronounced dead at 8:50 a.m. Wednesday from blunt force trauma and internal injuries, St. Clair County Coroner Rick Stone said.
Gaston's remains could not be removed until 11:06 a.m., when firefighters pulled off her car's roof and two doors.
A white Honda Civic with North Carolina plates was also hit by the stolen police car. The middle-aged man driving the Civic was taken to St. Louis University Medical Center.
The person in the stolen police car was hurt but the injuries did not appear to be life threatening, emergency workers said. He, too, was taken to St. Louis University Medical Center and was in custody, Ike said.
Mike Stevens was at the Mobil station near 80th and State and saw four or five officers with the bus stopped.
"They brought the dude off the bus, hands in front of him crossed. He walked towards the police car," Stevens said. "One officer turned his back like he was about to get something off the bus. The dude broke and hopped in the car and took off."
Stevens said the police car had been sitting there running with the lights on.
Ike said officers were letting the man go after they removed him from the bus. They were starting to follow the patrol car but Ike said the crash was so fast there was never a chance for a pursuit.
The police cruiser appeared to have hit the Mercury head-on and was smoking and had to be extinguished when firefighters arrived. The Honda wound up off the road and in some weeds.
The crash scene drew 20 police cruisers, including some from neighboring communities, firetrucks and Illinois Department of Transportation vehicles to close State Street. Debris from the crash littered the road, which remained closed to traffic for hours after the crash.
Besides working for the VA, Gaston also formerly worked in drug and alcohol counseling for the Gateway Foundation and was a jailer for the East St. Louis police.
Phyllis Lewis-Oliver was upstairs on her computer at 6914 State St. She said she heard a loud boom.
"It sounded like a bomb. My husband thought the furnace was blowing up," she said.
She said she ran downstairs and saw the Honda on the side of her house and the police car sitting there. She said the Mercury was smashed and next to a utility pole.
"I knew whoever was in there was not coming out."