CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — If there were any questions that serving as an elected official has slowed down Sheriff Brian Gardner, they can be put to rest.
Gardner proved to be instrumental in apprehending a Columbus Junction man who had taken Cedar Rapids police on a high-speed chase that had been broken off for safety reasons.
The incident began around 11:38 p.m. Thursday night when Cedar Rapids officers observed a vehicle at 33rd Avenue and Sixth Street SW traveling at a high rate of speed. As the vehicle sped up the 600 block of 33rd Avenue SW, officers clocked it at 50 mph in a 35 mph zone.
Police attempted to stop the driver — later identified as Nelson C. Williams, 27, of Columbus Junction — but he sped away. Police said Williams hit speeds of 90 mph at 33rd Avenue and 21st Street SW. He then turned northbound on Edgewood Road and ran a red light at Edgewood Road and 29th Avenue. At this time, officers broke off the chase due to the high rate of speed.
The sheriff said he had just picked up his wife from the airport and were stopped at red light at Edgewood Road and Williams Boulevard.
“I noticed in my rearview mirror that there was a passenger car closing in on us at a very, very high rate of speed,” Gardner said. “It was clear to me the car was not going to stop at the red light. The car went rocketing through the intersection.”
Gardner estimates that Williams passed him at 90 mph.
Williams continued up Edgewood Road to 20th Avenue, attempted to make a turn, lost control and drove through the median, taking out a sign in the process, Gardner said. At this time, Gardner said he saw a Cedar Rapids squad car come up behind him, but the officer shut off the emergency signals.
“I later learned he lost sight of the vehicle and had discontinued the chase,” Gardner said.
Gardner said Williams turned around and came back toward him, driving southbound on Edgewood Road. With no way to flag down the pursuing officer, Gardner said his wife tried to call 911. However, her phone was experiencing an issue and she was unable to contact authorities.
By this time, Williams was driving at a normal speed and Gardner turned his car around to follow him. When he saw another Cedar Rapids officer, Gardner flashed his lights at the officer and told her that the driver they were after was in front of him. However, Gardner said the officer mistakenly followed the wrong car.
Williams eventually took off for the Walmart on 29th Avenue SW. Gardner said he followed Williams into the parking lot. Williams got out of his car and Gardner followed him into the store.
“My wife is telling dispatch what’s going on,” Gardner said. “I get out of the car, no idea why he’s being chased. I have no idea if he’s armed ... I just know they were chasing him.”
Gardner, who was armed, said he yelled “Linn County Sheriff, stop” at Williams and continued to do so as Williams ran into the store. Gardner said he followed Williams into Walmart, who ran in one door, along the row of cash registers and out another door, which had been barricaded because the floor was being waxed.
“I’ve got to shove the shopping carts out of my way and I’m chasing him out the door; still shouting ‘Linn County Sheriff, stop,’” Gardner said.
Gardner said the chase continued into the parking lot, where his wife had reached the police department and was requesting an officer come to the store. Williams finally slows to a stop, but without handcuffs, Gardner said he had no way of taking him into custody. Instead, Gardner said he talked to Williams until the officer originally involved in the chase came to assist Gardner. Gardner said he then wrote a supplemental report and went home.
“Different,” is how Gardner described the incident, while also cracking a few jokes about his age.
Cedar Rapids police said they found marijuana in Williams’ car. He arrested and faces charges of possession of a controlled substance, operating under the influence, attempting to elude, driving while barred, speeding, running two red lights and failure to have proof of insurance.