Officer who sparked 2001 riots involved in fatal Evendale chase

Former Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach (FOX19 NOW file photo, Cincinnati Police)
Former Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach (FOX19 NOW file photo, Cincinnati Police)

EVENDALE, OH (FOX19) - Evendale police have identified their officer involved in a chase that ended in a fiery crash, killing the fleeing driver.

Officer Stephen Roach was conducting speed enforcement on northbound Interstate 75 when he saw a BMW speeding more than 100 mph about 1 a.m. Saturday, police wrote in a prepared statement.

Roach pursued the vehicle until the BMW drove off the side of an exit ramp and slammed into a guardrail, according to the Ohio Highway State Patrol.

Dash camera video shows two officers, including Roach, working to free the driver from the burning wreckage.

The driver, identified as Keith Conley, 35, of Hamilton, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Officer Roach has worked for Evendale police since early 2002, when he quit the Cincinnati Police Department.

As a Cincinnati police officer, he shot and killed an unarmed and fleeing 19-year-old, Timothy Thomas, who was wanted on several misdemeanors.

The April 2001 shooting in Over-the-Rhine sparked Cincinnati's worst racial unrest in three decades.

Roach was charged with negligent homicide and obstructing official business, both misdemeanors, and acquitted in a September 2001 bench trial.

"As evidenced by his yearly evaluations from his supervisors, Officer Roach is viewed as a valued member of the department," said Evendale Police Chief Niel Korte. "In addition to his patrol responsibilities, he is a member of our, and the Hamilton County Police Association Honor Guard, he is a trained accident reconstructionist and has led or assisted in numerous fatal crash investigations. He has been a field training officer for new officers as well as a Taser instructor. His personnel file contains a great many letters of commendation and appreciation from residents, supervisors, and other agencies."

The police chase in Evendale remains under investigation.

[Dash cam video shows Evendale police pursuit end in fatal, fiery crash]

Conley's family is questioning how long he was followed by police, when and if this was a pursuit, and they're also concerned about the reasoning behind the stop.

His mother, Donna Curtis, said she and her family want answers.

"He said 'I'm sorry to tell you your son didn't make it.' And I said 'excuse me? That's not what you're saying to me. You did not, no, you're lying, I know this is your job, but I haven't even had time to grieve properly about my baby being gone,'" she said.

Conley's BMW was weaving in and out of traffic, causing other motorists to brake, according to police.

"I have a deep pain in my heart because there is so much going on, that's out of character for my grandson to have been pursued by police, but we know they don't know who's inside a car," his grandmother, Wynona Ray said.

Officer Roach drove after the vehicle, closing in on I-75 as it approached the exit onto westbound I-275. He flipped on his vehicle's overhead flashing lights.

Conley put on his right hand signal, slowed and exited onto the westbound I-275 ramp.

"These actions led Officer Roach to believe the driver was going to pull over," police wrote in their statement.

But once the vehicle was at the entrance to I-275, the driver "accelerated appreciably" and Roach  lost sight of the vehicle.

Ohio State Highway Patrol officials said Conley failed to negotiate a right-hand curve before running off the left side of the ramp and slamming into a guardrail, according to the Ohio Highway State Patrol.

The BMW went down an embankment and hit a second guardrail and a Ford Taurus before stopping.

Two people inside the Ford were not hurt.

He was unconscious when first responders were called to the scene and ultimately was pronounced dead there, according to the state patrol.

Speed and alcohol are believed to be factors in the crash, they said.

The family said no one in law enforcement has reached out to them since Saturday.

On Wednesday, police said 21 seconds elapsed from when Officer Roach activated his siren and the time he exited to Ohio 747, and 94 seconds spanned between the time he turned on his overhead lights and exited to Ohio 747.

Police also said their policy allows for the pursuit of a vehicle when "the officer observes, prior to an attempted traffic stop, actions of the violator which constitute a risk of serious physical harm to the officer or others and the officer determines that such actions require an immediate attempt to stop the violator...."

"Given the extreme excessive rate of speed and the weaving through traffic, Officer Roach, with acknowledgment of the on-duty supervisor, Lt. Joseph Ashbrock, attempted a traffic stop on the violator," police wrote in their statement.

"The driver fled from the officer and, as indicated, crashed within 21 seconds of Officer Roach activating his siren. As per policy, a supervisory review of this incident will be conducted."

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