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October 5, 2012

Police building cases against suspects in fatal crash

CULLMAN — Law enforcement agencies in Jefferson and Walker counties are working together to build a case against the two suspects accused of vehicular homicide, after the two men allegedly fled the scene of an accident that killed a Hanceville family.

Television stations in Birmingham have reported the suspects’ names as Dominique Smith and Jeffrey Howe, both Birmingham-area residents. An officer with an Alabama law enforcement agency confirmed the suspects’ identities to The Cullman Times Thursday.

The Monday crash that killed Hanceville residents Ryan Culwell, Amber Verus and Rogue Marie Culwell, their infant daughter, came in Adamsville, near the end of a police chase that began when an elderly couple was robbed and assaulted in Cordova. The suspects allegedly abandoned the SUV in which they were traveling and continued their flight on foot.

The two men were arrested at separate times Tuesday by Birmingham police and U.S. Marshals. No charges have yet been filed, but Birmingham police public information officer Johnny Williams said Thursday his agency is working with county and municipal law enforcement agencies in towns along the route of the 28-mile car chase.

“We’re working in conjunction with all of the law enforcement agencies involved,” said Williams. “It’s a joint investigation by the Birmingham police department and agencies in those other municipalities. Our investigators will work across agencies to put all of the evidence and information together before presenting all of it to the district attorney. While there may be charges filed in other towns, the courts usually consider the higher charge first.”

Cordova police chief Kenneth Bobo said the cooperative effort between agencies should cut down on investigative redundancies while helping each jurisdiction make a strong case against the suspects.

“Because of the crash happening in Birmingham, a lot of the physical evidence has to be collected in Birmingham,” said Bobo. “But instead of all of us stepping on each other’s toes, we’re acting in a supporting role for Birmingham, which has taken the lead as the investigating agency. They have been excellent in working with us, and they can bring more resources to bear in terms of forensics.

“Once the police department in Birmingham conclude with their findings and present them to their D.A., we will then be able take those same findings, and that will be what we would use in Cordova to obtain our warrants here for any charges these same two suspects would face. Basically, we are all just fitting the pieces of the puzzle together, and I expect the timeframe of the chase — as well as the physical evidence — to show that those suspects are the ones involved in the Cordova robbery and in the homicides.”

Bobo said an elderly Cordova man whom the suspects allegedly robbed and hit in the head Monday was expected to fully recover.

* Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at bbullard@cullmantimes.com or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.

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