Driver charged in killing of Springdale officer could face death penalty

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - The driver accused of purposely causing a crash that killed a Springdale police officer was charged Wednesday with aggravated murder and could face the death penalty, according to the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office.

Terry Blankenship, 42, was fleeing police on westbound Interstate 275 the night of March 21 when he purposely rammed his vehicle into two cruisers on the side of the highway, Springdale police have said.

Officer Kaia Grant and Sgt. Andrew Davis were there to assist in the chase. She about to throw down so-called “stop sticks” to try to end the pursuit when she took the brunt of the impact and was gravely wounded, according to police.

Officer Grant was flown to University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.

She was 33-years-old and an eight-year veteran with the Springdale Police Department. It was the agency’s first in-the-line-of-duty death.

Blankenship shot himself in the head at the crash scene, the prosecutor’s office revealed in a news release.

“I can promise you we are going to seek justice for Officer Grant," Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters vowed in a joint news conference with Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and Springdale Police Chief Thomas Wells.

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Springdale Police Sgt. Andrew Davis and Officer Kaia Grant
Springdale Police Sgt. Andrew Davis and Officer Kaia Grant (Source: Provided by Springdale police)

A grand jury won’t be convened in the case until late April due to statewide stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

When the jury does consider an indictment against Blankenship, it will be up to them if he faces the possibility of Death Row.

“The purposeful killing of a police officer under Ohio law is a death penalty case,” Deters said. “It’s going to be an issue that the grand jury is going to have to deal with in terms of intent. I personally feel he purposely drove into this officer. If you have the opportunity to look at his text messages, that they are going to have to kill him before they take him, arrest him, things like that. It would not surprise me at all if this returned a death specification.”

BCI agents spent four days on the scene working on this case, Yost said, “the fruit of their labors will be shown in a court of law, at which time I am confident the defendant will be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

“One element, or one example of the evidence that supports these charges, are texts recovered, paint chips from Officer Grant’s body that are consistent with the maroon paint job on the defendant’s truck. There will be other forensic evidence and testimony has been developed that will be presented at trial by Joe Deters and his team, but I am looking forward to justice being done in this case. Again, deepest sympathies to the family of Officer Grant.”

At the time of the incident, Blankenship was wanted for a felony aggravated burglary warrant out of Clinton County.

Police have said they also received a warning he had threatened “suicide by cop” and was armed and dangerous.

The chase began in Elmwood Place, where police tried to stop Blankenship’s truck after spotting it and being alerted to the warrant connected to it.

Blankenship fled police out of Elmwood Place and onto northbound I-75 to westbound I-275.

Officer Grant and Sgt. Davis, meanwhile, parked their marked cruisers on I-275 west of Ohio 4, got out and stood ready to deploy their stop sticks as Blankenship’s pick-up truck approached, according to a news release from the prosecutor’s office.

“With no obstacles in his way, Blankenship made a sudden turn toward the officers and drove directly into the police officers and their marked police vehicles. Neither officer was able to deploy their stop sticks. The impact caused Officer Grant’s body to go airborne and cross the highway barrier and land on the opposite side of the highway,” the release states.

“Blankenship’s truck came to rest on the right side of the highway. The impact of the crash turned on Officer Grant’s body worn camera. The camera activated at approximately 8:15 p.m. and a single gunshot is heard. Blankenship had extensive facial injuries as the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. A loaded .45 caliber semi-automatic was found in Blankenship’s truck. No shots were fired by any police officers on the scene.”

Blankenship was seriously injured and taken to University of Cincinnati Medical Center, police have said.

He was transferred from the hospital to an undisclosed nursing home sometime last week and is continuing to receive medical care there, a Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office spokesman told FOX19 NOW on Monday.

The location is not being released due to security reasons.

Blankenship has a long criminal record.

Two days before the chase and crash, Blankenship broke into his estranged wife’s home in Clinton County and threatened her and her boyfriend, according to Blanchester police.

They have said they responded to a report of a man with a gun breaking into her trailer at a mobile home park in the 800 block of East Center Street and then fleeing in a maroon pickup truck the evening of March 19.

Blankenship’s estranged wife told police he broke down the front door of the trailer and entered the living room armed with a pistol.

He “communicated his intent to kill” her boyfriend, pushed past her and went into the bedroom where the boyfriend was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, police have said.

Blankenship pointed the gun at his estranged wife’s boyfriend’s face, and the two men struggled, according to Blanchester police.

They said Blankenship pistol-whipped the man and fled.

“Prior to fleeing the residence, Blankenship commented that he could have the police shoot him,” police wrote in a prepared statement issued last month.

Blanchester police told dispatchers to put out a bulletin to law enforcement in surrounding agencies to be on the lookout for Blankenship, that he was armed and had threatened “suicide by cop.”

As part of the police investigation, authorities “reviewed text messages he sent to his estranged wife and conversations he had with his mother indicating police would have to kill him as he was not willing to go back to jail,” prosecutors said Wednesday.

Blankenship holds a license to carry a concealed weapon, one that was issued by the Clermont County Sheriff’s Office.

Blanchester police also determined he has four prior arrests for domestic violence and one for assault, all in Clermont and Clinton counties.

Those five cases resulted in two disorderly conduct convictions, which Blanchester police have described as “a rather impotent consequence.”

On Wednesday, Deters said they plan to look into how Blankenship was given a concealed carry license.

“The cases that he was charged with, domestic violence which would exclude him of carrying a concealed weapon, he was never convicted of. But that’s an issue we have to deal with down the road. We have to take care of Officer Grant’s case for right now."

Asked how authorities would ensure there is no COVID-19 spread once Blankenship goes to the county jail, Deters responded:

“That’s the sheriff’s issue and, quite frankly, I don’t care if he gets it or not, so, whatever,” he said.

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