GEORGETOWN (AP) — A Kentucky State Police trooper feared the worst as he climbed into the crashed SUV, stolen 48 miles away, and saw the car seat flipped over in the back.
Nearly an hour earlier, a car thief had jumped into the driver’s seat as a teenage boy pumped gas, his 8-month-old sister still inside the car. The thief sped away, leading police on a hunt that stretched across three counties, as the baby’s panicked family waited desperately for word.
As the trooper turned the car seat over, he found the baby breathing heavily, as if scared, but she was unharmed.
“That was a relieving moment,” said Trooper Robert Purdy, a spokesman for the state police. “There’s a lot of ways it could have ended so much more tragically.”
The trooper found a bottle in the car and fed the baby to calm her, Purdy said, and the suspect ran to the woods.
Police identified him as Sidney Fee Jr., a 35-year-old from Berea. They say he jumped into the Hyundai Santa Fe at the Pilot Travel Center in Georgetown at around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. The baby’s mother had gone inside the store, leaving the teenage son to pump gas.
Fee veered onto the interstate ramp just down the street as dozens at the gas station frantically dialed police, authorities said. His whereabouts were uncertain for about a half-hour. An off-duty trooper was driving an unmarked car, about 30 miles south on the interstate, near Richmond. He decided to pull over and wait to see whether the stolen SUV happened to pass by.
It did, and the trooper followed. Purdy declined to name the trooper involved, citing his sensitive position in the governor’s security detail.
Fee must have noticed the tail, Purdy said, because he took the exit and began to speed. A Madison County sheriff’s deputy caught up with them and joined in the pursuit. Fee drove through ditches, ran stop signs and plowed across people’s lawns, police said.
Five miles after leaving the interstate, with at least two police cruisers on his tail, Fee crashed through a gate and into a cluster of trees, Purdy said. Fee leapt from the car and ran into the woods, according to police, and the deputy followed him as the trooper rescued the baby from the wrecked SUV.
Other law enforcement soon arrived, set up a perimeter and tried to track the man into the woods. Fee ran into four deputies at the perimeter, Purdy said. He showed them he had a gun and threatened to kill himself, Purdy said. For 10 minutes, Purdy said, they tried to coax him to lay down the weapon.
Around 6:45 p.m., an hour and 15 minutes after he stole the car, Fee shot himself in the head. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
An ambulance took the baby to Baptist Health hospital in Richmond for observation. She was soon released.