Crash Kills 1, Injures Officer; Search For Suspect Continues


One person died early Friday morning after a Whitehall police cruiser on its way to a pursuit, collided with another vehicle.

Vernon Lightle, 78, was killed and Officer Enrique Ortega suffered serious injuries.

Whitehall police Sgt. Dan Kelso said Ortega was rushing to back up other officers around 4:30 a.m. Friday.

Authorities said it all started when 29-year-old Matthew Jones ignored a protection order and called and harassed his girlfriend.

"So we set up officers in the area, to watch the house, because we feared for her safety and to make sure she was ok. And, lo and behold, he did show up at the residence,” said Dan Kelso, Whitehall Police Department.

But once Jones saw officers, he took off, and police called for backup as they pursued him.

Ortega responded to that call for help and investigators said he headed westbound on East Main Street. They said when he reached the intersection of Beechwood Avenue and East Main Street, he was hit by a car not involved in the chase.

Just an hour after the crash, Vernon Lightle’s daughter arrived at the scene.

"He's an innocent bystander," Sharon Lightle said. "Just on his morning routine, I'm just very angry."

She said her father was headed to breakfast.

"He was leaving home and going over to where he goes every morning, Jolly Pirate Donuts on Broad Street," She said.

Sharon said that her father's morning routine was grabbing a cup of coffee at the shop and reading the paper.

Bill Moore is the owner of Ernie's Complete Automotive Service where the crash occurred.

"I was approached by a police officer who said, 'You can't get in here,' and I said 'Well this is my business,'" Moore said. "When I looked I'm going, 'Oh,' I froze.'"

The crash damaged four customers' vehicles and a sign. Moore stressed the cars could be replaced and his thoughts are with the families affected.

Police confirmed that they are searching for Jones. Kelso said he is still at large.

“He made some threats to the victim that make us think he could possibly be armed maybe with a sledgehammer, possibly with a gun,” Kelso said.

Jones is described as a white man standing 6 feet 6 inches and weighing 210 lbs. He was driving a gold Mazda with Ohio license No. AGU-5151. He has been charged with Fail to Comply (felony fleeing), Violation of a Protection Order, Aggravated Menacing, and Domestic Violence Threats.

Authorities described Jones as dangerous and said that he has multiple active warrants.

Ortega suffered internal injuries, including broken bones. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Vernon Lightle leaves behind a wife of 48 years and three children.  

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