Shooting suspect dies following police pursuit
MARKHAM — Vester Lee Flanagan II, 41, of Roanoke, the suspect in the fatal shootings of a television reporter and cameraman in Moneta died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound following a police pursuit on eastbound Interstate 66 near Markham in Fauquier County on Wednesday.
Flanagan is suspected of fatally shooting WDBJ-TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward on live television early Wednesday and wounding Vicki Gardner, who was being interviewed by Parker. Flanagan, a former employee of the Roanoke TV station, fled the scene and ended up crashing the vehicle he was driving into an embankment on I-66.
During a news conference Wednesday, Sgt. F.L. “Les” Tyler of the Virginia State Police said Trooper Pamela M. Neff “registered a hit on a possible suspect vehicle” at her location at the interchange of interstates 66 and 81 at 11:20 a.m, several hours after the early morning shooting in Moneta.
Tyler said Neff pursued the vehicle, a 2015 Chevy Sonic, at the 8-mile marker on eastbound I-66.
“After other units arrived, a traffic stop was initiated at the 15.6 mm (mile marker),” Tyler said. Traffic on the interstate was shut down between mile markers 13 and 18.
Neff said that she had been sitting at the interchange for “approximately 15 or 20 minutes” before she received updated information on the suspect’s vehicle and entered it into the car’s system.
Through a license plate reader camera system, troopers can identify stolen cars or vehicles listed in the National Crime Information Center’s database.
The on-car camera system — located near the rear of the state police units — reads and takes photos of the license plates of cars that pass by. That information is then read against the national database, Neff said.
“Once it’s entered in, it runs only one day’s worth of information,” Neff said. “After that one day, all of the information is dumped.”
Neff said, “As soon as it was entered, it did come up with a positive peg that that vehicle had passed me less than three minutes earlier.”
Neff said she contacted her dispatch once the vehicle was identified and proceeded to attempt to catch up to the car, which was traveling eastbound on I-66 past Front Royal and into Fauquier County.
Neff said the suspect was not driving above the posted speed limit of 70 miles per hour as she attempted to catch up. She said she waited to initiate the traffic stop and trigger her lights and sirens until backup units arrived.
Neff said she turned on her siren and lights around mile marker 15 on I-66.
Once the chase began, Neff said the suspect never sped up, did not stop and was traveling in the center of highway for about 1.5 miles.
Tyler said, “The interstate is divided into two lanes going east and west, with a median with an embankment in between it. So he straddled the two lanes.”
The chase ended at mile marker 17.1 when Flanagan drove off the left-hand side of the highway and into an embankment located in the median between the I-66 eastbound and westbound lanes.
Neff said troopers approached the vehicle and found “just a gentleman that appeared to be suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”
Before the vehicle was identified, Tyler said state police had been “receiving all kinds of information” on possible vehicles the suspect was using.
“Once we mobilized and we got information on where the suspect’s vehicle was possibly traveling, we had troopers all along the interstate systems monitoring,” Tyler said, adding that area law enforcement agencies assisted in the search.
Tyler said fire and rescue units were on scene from Fauquier and Warren counties as well as from Linden, Marshall, Upperville and Orleans.
Tyler said that state police screened the area to make sure that it was clear of civilian cars before the area for the traffic stop was chosen.
“There was a work zone prior to this location that went down to one lane,” he said. “We had enough units once (Neff) had backup that we screened this vehicle away.”
The scene of the crime near mile marker 17 was cleared around 3:20 p.m., according to Tyler.
Flanagan was transported to a Northern Virginia hospital with life-threatening wounds and was pronounced dead at 1:26 p.m.
Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org