Fulton County Jail
11Alive empty while everyone covers police chase. (Photo: NBC News)
ATLANTA -- Tuesday afternoon, crime came to our own front door at 11Alive Studios in northeast Atlanta.
We are always covering crime, all across metro Atlanta, and what we saw Tuesday is simply more proof -- first-hand -- that it can happen anywhere, at any time.
It was a police pursuit that unfolded in our parking lot.
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"It was about 1:30, I was headed to lunch," said 11Alive Producer Rett Thompson.
He had just stepped outside into the parking lot.
"And this car was flying through here."
Thompson was the first to see it -- a man driving what turned out to be a suspected stolen car right into 11Alive's parking lot, and Atlanta Police Officer W. Towns was right behind the car.
Did the suspected car thief see the bright, yellow sign at our driveway entrance that says "No Outlet"?
He was trapped.
Surveillance video shows him pulling into a parking space where the parking lot ends. And the video shows Officer Towns approaching to arrest him. But then the video shows the man getting out of the car and running.
"He's running at me," Thompson said, "and he's hauling, too. And the officer was about 50 yards behind him."
In those seconds, no one in the parking lot, not Thompson, not anyone else, certainly not the officer, could have known whether the man was armed and might open fire or grab a hostage.
In a flash, the man ran down a steep hill, somehow got over or around a chain-link fence, wove his way through thick woods, and finally stumbled onto Monroe Drive below.
"And [he] just booked it across Monroe Drive," said 11Alive Account Executive Ted Dougherty. Dougherty was stopped at the red light at Monroe Drive and Armour Drive on his way back to the office, and he saw the man run past his car as the officer who was chasing him emerged from out of the hilly woods.
"Oh, he was within five seconds behind him, and he ran right past our car, then the cop ran right past our car."
Just then Dougherty saw other officers pull up and catch the guy, underneath the I-85 bridge.
"It was unbelievable," Dougherty said. "You just never expect to see [this] in your backyard."
Everyone inside 11Alive was grabbing cameras and running outside to cover the chase and arrest.
Our friends in the NBC News bureau snapped a photo of a rare sight -- not a soul was inside our Information Center.
We looked it up -- in the City of Atlanta in 2012 there were 5,150 vehicles reported stolen, an average of about 14 a day.
In 2011, there were 5,371.
Officer W. Towns is a member of the Regional Auto Theft Task Force, focusing on catching car thieves, recovering stolen cars, and reducing car thefts. He had been only a few blocks away from 11Alive, using his license plate reader system, and he got a stolen vehicle hit on a grey Infinity with a Florida tag. At that, Officer Towns never let the driver out of his sight.
Atlanta Police never classified it as a chase.
The way the report states it, Officer Towns positioned his vehicle behind the suspected stolen car and kept a constant "visual," while calling for backup.
The suspect, Towand Hatcher, 26, is now in the Fulton County Jail.
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The rest of us moved on to our next assignments.
"It's so wild to happen like just within a couple of feet, on my way to lunch," Thompson said. "To think that that happens all the time is crazy."
Dougherty, and everyone else, could not stop talking, with respect and admiration, about Officer Towns' relentless and brave determination.
"After watching the suspect tumble down the hill, and the cop come down behind him," Dougherty said, "I mean you could tell he was really going after him. It was no joke, he was running to catch that guy."
And he did.
Officers looked inside the trunk of the Infiniti. They found two shopping bags from Nordstrom and Abercrombie & Fitch.
Police were not able to say, yet, on Tuesday night whether they had been able to contact the owner of the Infiniti.