A high-speed chase in the Florida Keys Sunday morning narrowly avoided becoming a tragedy as the woman barreling up U.S. 1 in an SUV passed hundreds of runners competing in a half marathon on the side of the two-lane highway, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
As 41-year-old Courtney West Epps sped past the runners in her Chevrolet Suburban SUV, bits of tires flew off the wheels’ rims because Monroe County sheriff’s deputies laid down spikes about 10 miles south. She drove through the spikes, refusing to stop for FHP troopers, who’d been chasing her for more than 30 miles, according to her arrest report.
Bob Baumann, 57, was about to complete his run when Epps crashed into a Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority construction site on the side of the road at mile marker 80 in Islamorada, just short of the finish line.
“She would have wiped me out,” Baumann, from Indiana, told the Miami Herald.
Baumann said at least one runner was hit in the foot by a piece of tire, but was not injured. Another runner had a panic attack when troopers ordered Epps, who eventually crashed into a tree after plowing through a construction barrier, out of the Suburban at gunpoint.
“It was very scary,” Baumann said.
Began on Big Pine Key
The chase began around 8 a.m. at mile marker 36 on Big Pine Key when an FHP trooper saw the Suburban heading north in the southbound lane of U.S. 1 at 110 mph, according to the arrest report.
With troopers behind her, Epps, who lives in Taylors, South Carolina, continued to speed up U.S. 1, often against traffic. She drove over the Seven Mile Bridge connecting Little Duck Key to the middle Keys city of Marathon at speeds between 90 and 120 mph, according to the report. The speed limit on the bridge is 55 mph.
“Ms. Epps maintained the high rate of speed at all times, regardless of oncoming traffic when passing in the southbound lane, endangering the life and property of all of the public on US-1,” Trooper Ray Estavillo said in his report.
Sheriff’s office deputies tried popping her tires with a strip of spikes at mile marker 60, but it didn’t work, the report said.
Deputies farther up the road laid down another set of spikes at mile marker 71, at the north end of the Channel 5 Bridge, popping three of the Suburban’s tires, Estavillo wrote.
She managed to go another nine miles on one good tire and three rims before she crashed into the construction site.
“Ms .Epps continued traveling at the same high rate of speed approaching a half marathon of runners on the northbound shoulder of US-1 involving hundreds of runners,” Estavillo wrote. “The three spiked tires began to fall off of Ms. Epps’ vehicle one by one, and two vehicles of the motoring public ran over them and were damaged.”
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Once Epps crashed into the construction site, coming to a final stop after hitting construction materials and a tree, three troopers, guns drawn, ordered her to come out of the car. Estavillo said in his report that she seemed disoriented.
“At that time, Ms. Epps had extremely constricted pupils and did not respond to verbal or physical stimulation, only stared straight forward in silence,” he wrote.
Before taking Epps to jail, they took her to Mariners Hospital in Tavernier to check for injuries. Estavillo said she exhibited bizarre behavior en route to and at the hospital.
“During the transport to the hospital and while at the hospital, Ms. Epps sang gospel songs loudly. Ms. Epps also urinated herself while standing in the lobby of the hospital,” Estavillo wrote. “While at the hospital, Ms. Epps would alternate between sleeping, singing loudly, talking to herself about ‘God the Father,’ or talking to hospital staff about the same.”
After being cleared at the hospital, Epps voluntarily submitted to a field sobriety test and breath test. The breath test came back negative for alcohol, but she showed signs of intoxication, including nystagmus, which is an unsteady eye gaze often caused by drug and alcohol use, according to the report.
Her strange behavior also continued, Estavillo wrote.
“After I read the instructions for the walk and turn test, Ms. Epps stated that, ‘God the Father told her to stop’ participating in the exercises,” the report states.
Epps declined to take part in any more testing, including submitting a urine sample, according to the report.
She was booked on charges of felony fleeing and eluding police with property damage, driving while intoxicated, three counts of driving intoxicated resulting in property damage and reckless driving.
“Ms. Epps operated a motor vehicle on US-1 at a high rate of speed, traveling in the wrong direction, with aggressive reckless disregard for public safety, life and property between mile markers 36 and 80,” Estavillo wrote.
“Ms. Epps did so to the endangerment of the motoring public, pedestrians, bicyclists, through school zones, near churches, and the marathon run risking the lives of hundreds of individuals,” the report states. “She did so while fleeing and eluding marked patrol cars with lights and sirens activated, continued to do so after having her tires spiked, and only stopped after crashing her vehicle.”
Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia set Epps bond at $160,000 Monday afternoon, according to the State Attorney’s Office. Information about her legal representation was not immediately available.