Family files lawsuit against first responders for fatal wreck during chase in 2022

Family files lawsuit against first responders for fatal wreck during chase in 2022
Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 6:12 PM EDT
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BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The family of Tyrance Benbow, a man killed in a wreck during a high-speed chase with Brunswick County law enforcement, has filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office and other first responders.

The lawsuit claims that Benbow’s civil rights were violated under state law and the Fourth and 14th Amendments in the crash that took place on Friday, July 8 of 2022.

It also claims that a PIT maneuver resulted in the fatal wreck and that this constituted unreasonable use of deadly force. This is disputed by the N.C. Highway Patrol’s Collision Reconstruction Unit, which stated last year that the collision wasn’t a result of a PIT maneuver.

Violations alleged by the suit include unreasonable detention and seizure, excessive force and wrongful death arising from negligence. For relief, the suit requests that the court declare the deputies’ actions unlawful. The suit also requests damages, a trial by jury on contested issues of fact and punitive damages from the defendants.

According to the BCSO, it got word that Benbow and others were headed to South Carolina to bring cocaine into the county and attempted to pull them over. The BCSO says law enforcement attempted to pull Benbow over but he sped away north on Hwy 17 near Holden Beach, reaching over 100 miles per hour.

The sheriff’s office says Benbow went off the side of the road when turning onto N.C. 130, attempted to overcorrect and swerved into the other lane, hitting another vehicle. A couple and three children inside the other vehicle had minor injuries, and Benbow was killed in the crash.

Agents reportedly found 77.1 grams of cocaine in the vehicle, and the District Attorney’s office concluded that no criminal statutes were violated by the office in the fatal collision.

The lawsuit claims Sheriff John Ingram and Sgt. Josh Davies for the BCSO Drug Enforcement Unit “deliberately failed to intervene” in stopping two deputies’ “unconstitutional use of deadly force in Benbow’s ‘pitting’ death.” The two deputies named are Keith Bowling and Alexander Melvin.

It then claims that Benbow appeared in court two days earlier, on July 6, to answer to two misdemeanor charges that were both dismissed. The suit then claims that Deputy Melvin, a member of the Drug Enforcement Unit, threatened Benbow as he left the courtroom.

On July 8, the suit says that Benbow asked a family friend to meet him on the road to follow him home since he was fearing for his safety due to the threat. The lawsuit claims he stopped at Circle K on Ocean Highway West in Ocean Isle Beach to get gas, and that the DEU could have stopped him there if they believed he was moving drugs.

The lawsuit claims that two DEU deputies pulled over the car of the friend who was following him home, saying they smelled marijuana and searched their vehicle. Then, it claims, Bowling “pitted” Benbow into oncoming traffic and killed him within minutes of the friend’s vehicle being separated from him.

To supplement this claim, the lawsuit cites recordings that allegedly include the dispatchers confirming that Deputy Bowling was going to PIT the driver shortly before the fatal wreck. It also says neither of the deputies were trained or certified in applying the PIT maneuver.

The lawsuit says that Benbow was unarmed at the time of the maneuver and that the deputies “lacked any objective grounds to believe Benbow was dangerous or had committed a serious crime.”

WECT reached out to The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office for a comment on the lawsuit. The department’s spokesperson said it would be inappropriate for the sheriff’s office to speak about pending litigation involving the agency.