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Coroner's inquest to be held in fatal police shooting

| Saturday, Sept. 25, 2004

For five months, Kermith Sonnier has wondered why the police shot his son in the back and why they were chasing him in the first place.

"There's just a lot of unanswered questions," he said.

His son, Kermith Sonnier Jr., a Louisiana native who had been living in the Washington County community of Denbo Heights, was killed by police gunfire on May 5 during a chase through Brownsville borough and township. A bullet hit him near his left shoulder blade. He died from the wound.

Authorities are holding a coroner's inquest on Thursday into Sonnier Jr.'s death at the Fayette County Courthouse.

Fayette County District Attorney Nancy Vernon maintains the four shots fired were done according to policy.

"I still haven't discovered any evidence that would lead me to conclude otherwise," she said.

Authorities say two officers opened fire after Sonnier Jr. tried to run them over with his truck near the end of a roughly 6-mile chase.

It started when Brownsville police Officer Autumn Fike pulled her cruiser behind Sonnier Jr.'s vehicle near private property patrolled because of frequent reports of criminal activity. Authorities say Fike had told Sonnier Jr. to leave the area the previous day, and he did so without incident.

During his second encounter with Fike, Sonnier Jr. drove off. Fike gave chase and called for backup. Several departments became involved before Sonnier Jr. turned into a wooded area near the village of Century. Several officers, including Fike, got out of their cruisers and went after him on foot.

Her weapon discharged once, authorities say. Redstone Township Capt. H. Dennis Field fired three times. It has not been made official who fired the fatal shot.

Toxicology test results indicate Sonnier Jr. had ingested cocaine and the antidepressant drug doxepin before the incident.

Since the shooting, a team of lawyers, investigators and civil rights activists have joined to sort out the facts.

Sonnier Sr. contends that his son was not trying to start a police chase. Sonnier Jr. was leaving the area only because Fike had asked him to do so once before, Sonnier Sr. said.

What he questions most is why his son was shot in the back.

Vernon said Sonnier's truck was fishtailing as he barrelled toward the officers, which could explain the angle of the entrance wound.

The inquest will begin Thursday at 9:30 a.m. in Courtroom 3.

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