Suspect in wrong-way crash identified as 29-year-old Walnut Cove man
The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office said Friday that a 29-year-old man from Walnut Cove was the driver of a stolen Mercury Grand Marquis that was driven the wrong way on the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway on Monday, and caused a head-on collision that claimed the lives of two people in their late teens.
Authorities said Joseph Brandon Smith, 29, of Walnut Cove, the driver of the Mercury, also died in the Monday afternoon crash. All three people died on the scene.
The sheriff’s office released a photo of Smith taken Jan. 24 during a booking for a previous offense.
On Monday, authorities said, Smith fled law enforcement while driving the stolen Grand Marquis. Smith got onto the ramp leading from Baux Mountain Road to the Beltway westbound, then made a U-turn and drove east in the westbound lanes.
The Grand Marquis collided head-on with a Dodge Charger driven by Jayce Haverkos. Haverkos, 19, and his girlfriend, Madison Grotschel, 18, who was also riding in the Charger, died in the wreck, as did Smith.
Grotschel’s mother said a law enforcement officer told her that the Grand Marquis was traveling about 120 miles per hour when it collided with the Charger carrying the two young people.
Both cars were demolished. A woman who lives on a residential street near the beltway came out and took a picture in the immediate aftermath of the wreck, showing smoke coming from the Charger and the Mercury in flames.
A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office said the identification was made after a family member of Smith’s reported him missing. Investigators were able to use dental records to identify Smith as the driver.
Meanwhile, GoFundMe campaigns have been started for the families of both Haverkos and Grotschel.
At the time of his death, Smith was already facing charges of theft and possession of another stolen motor vehicle, along with possession of heroin with intent to sell, possession of an illegal drug within 1,000 feet of a school, possession of stolen goods, felony larceny, breaking and entering, assault on a government employee and resisting an officer.
Those charges stem from Smith’s arrest by Winston-Salem police on Jan. 24 this year, when authorities took the photo they released Friday in identifying him as the driver in Monday’s crash.
Smith faced a court appearance on May 19 in Forsyth County on some of the charges, and on June 12 in Stokes County on the other charges.
In 2015, Smith was convicted in Stokes County of misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury, and was sentenced to 150 days community service and 24 months of probation. He was also ordered not to assault or harass the assault victim.
Later the same year, Smith pleaded guilty in Forsyth County to misdemeanor larceny and received 12 months of probation. In 2014, Smith was convicted in Stokes County of assault by pointing a gun. He received 60 days of community service, 12 months of probation and ordered not to threaten or harass the person who brought the charge.
Earlier in 2014, Smith received a 30-day sentence in Forsyth County when he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor larceny.
In the aftermath of Monday’s wreck, Grotschel’s mother and many online commenters have criticized law enforcement procedures, saying chases put innocent people at risk. The sheriff’s office has not provided much detail on its deputies’ efforts to stop the Mercury.
The first deputy to encounter the Grand Marquis was driving north of Baux Mountain Road and spotted the stolen car heading south, the sheriff’s office reported. The deputy turned around and attempted to stop the car by turning on blue lights and siren.
The Mercury continued south on Baux Mountain and turned west to get onto the Beltway before making the U-turn that put the car going the wrong direction. Trooper Kevin Barringer of the N.C. Highway Patrol said that because the Mercury driver turned the wrong way, the sheriff’s office “had kind of backed out” of the pursuit when the crash occurred.
The sheriff’s office did say that 70 seconds elapsed between the time the deputy turned on lights and siren and the time of the collision. The sheriff’s office said the deputy immediately got out after the crash and tried to render aid, helped by a second deputy who arrived shortly.
Help for families
As of 6 p.m., the GoFundMe drive for the family of Madison Grotschel had beaten its goal of raising $15,000 to offset funeral expenses, although people can still contribute. The fundraising campaign for the Haverkos family, started later, was nearing its goal of raising $5,000.
A funeral service for both Haverkos and Grotschel will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday at the South Fork campus of Revo Church on Wayne Avenue off Tucker Avenue from Country Club Road.