A car chase turned deadly in Baltimore

Documents offer glimpse at high-speed pursuit

  • Munpreet Chona
Munpreet Chona (Handout photo )
November 24, 2012|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

"Drive," he pleaded, sweating and panting. "Just drive."

Munpreet Chona had just crashed his car after fleeing Baltimore County police at speeds topping 100 miles per hour, then stolen a police cruiser after a fight with an officer that sent both tumbling over a guardrail on Interstate 95.

Now the 26-year-old's clueless friends, drinking buddies whom he'd called for a ride, were stopped in front of a motel in southern Baltimore, staring down 20 officers with guns pointed at them. And Chona, in the backseat of the 1994 Ford Bronco, was urging them to drive through the blockade. What had Monty gotten them into?

Documents obtained through a public records request detail for the first time the stunning turn of events that led Chona to be killed in a hail of gunfire by police on Jan. 31. It was the conclusion to a high-speed chase that wove through Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City, and involved officers from four different agencies — all of whom believed Chona was armed.

It started with a traffic stop.

Pfc. Christopher Neal, about 18 months removed from the police academy, was sitting at Liberty Road near the Beltway around 1:30 a.m. when he heard the police radio crackle that a white Nissan Altima driving erratically with its headlights dark had failed to stop for another officer in the Wilkens precinct.

And now there was the car, idling right in front of Neal at a stoplight. Neal began to follow it east on Liberty Road, but the driver slammed on the brakes and pulled a U-turn when he spotted the officer.

Behind the wheel was Chona, a lifelong Baltimore County resident and son of two Indian immigrants who died while he was young. A high school dropout, Chona had worked mostly odd jobs, including as a construction worker and bail bondsman, and had previously had a run-in or two with the police that had resulted in prison time.

He did 16 months behind bars after a drug arrest — and trying to flee police — while on probation for a previous drug charge. Then he got sent back for another four months in 2009 after fleeing police during a traffic stop. By most accounts, he avoided trouble after that and was trying to lead a productive life, his family said.

The vehicle turned onto the Beltway southbound and began accelerating quickly, reaching speeds of more than 100 mph as Neal gave chase. Neal radioed his supervisor for guidance as they neared Security Boulevard, and was told to break off. But he continued in the Nissan's direction at a reduced speed, he said, and kept dispatchers advised of its movements.

"I saw [him] varying speeds," Neal told detectives later. "He slowed down, [sped] up, slowed down, [sped] up, and I was just following from a distance."

Stealing a patrol car

From 500 yards back, Neal would later tell investigators, he could see the Nissan's lights turn off as it drove onto the ramp to I-95 toward Baltimore. As Neal maneuvered onto the ramp, he saw a puff of smoke and dust. The Nissan had smashed into the guardrail, and Chona, who Neal could see was wearing a white sweatshirt and jeans, was running away.

"Get down on the ground!" Neal yelled, drawing his Sig Sauer pistol as he gave chase.

Motioning toward his front waistband, Chona yelled, "I have a gun. I'll shoot you!"

Neal was able to tackle Chona, and both flipped over the guardrail. Neal said Chona "struck me several times in the face and upper body," "was able to get to his feet and began running towards my patrol car."

"We had a good fight for a little while," Neal would recall.

Neal's patrol car, a Ford Crown Victoria, was left unattended, as officers are wont to do when getting involved in a call. But they also tend to leave their keys in the ignition. Neal barked at him to stop, and Chona again said he had a gun before climbing into the driver's seat.

In either a tremendous show of restraint or a moment of hesitation, Neal did not fire his weapon. The documents do not shed more light on that moment, and police officials would not make Neal or any police commanders available for comment.

Neal caught up to Chona and tried to pull him to the ground. But Chona "floored the gas pedal" with the car still in park as he struggled with Neal. Chona pulled his right arm free and put the car into drive with half of Neal's body inside the cabin.

The car struck Neal's body, and he radioed to dispatch: His patrol vehicle has been stolen.

Gunning a black Bronco

Shane Edwards, who described himself as a "drinking buddy" of Chona's, was at a friend's house at about 1:30 a.m. when Chona called and said he needed a ride. He didn't say where he was or what was going on, Edwards said, but he wanted to be picked up at St. Agnes Hospital in Southwest Baltimore. Edwards jumped into his black Bronco with friends Nick and Clinton Rose and drove there to wait for him.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.