By JULIE MCCLURE, The Republic
BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY — A Hope teenager died after crashing his motorcycle in a Bartholomew County field following a pursuit in excess of 100 mph by an off-duty Nashville Police Department reserve officer.
Xavier M. Scrogham, 18, was found by a Bartholomew County Sheriff’s deputy at 11:43 p.m. Monday after the motorcyclist missed a 90-degree turn on Sunland Road east of Columbus.
Sheriff’s deputies believe Scrogham was traveling east on Sunland when he missed a sharp turn in the road, deputies said. The motorcyclist went across a grassy area before striking a telephone guide wire, which knocked off his helmet and resulted in Scrogham being thrown from his Honda motorcycle, Bartholomew County Coroner Larry Fisher said.
Scrogham died at the scene from head and neck trauma, Fisher said.
His motorcycle was found in a soybean field, where it had overturned after the accident, deputies said.
How it began
Sheriff’s deputies said they believe Scrogham’s motorcycle was involved in a pursuit just minutes before the accident, initiated by an off-duty Nashville Police Department reserve officer who was driving a marked vehicle southbound on U.S. 31 near Taylorsville.
A sheriff’s department release says the officer was behind Scrogham’s motorcycle at about 11:33 p.m. and determined it had no license plate.
On U.S. 31 near Lowell Road, the motorcycle accelerated quickly, and the Nashville reserve officer, identified by the sheriff’s department as Leonard Burch, activated his lights and siren to pursue it. Burch called Bartholomew County dispatch for help by cellphone, deputies said.
Burch told dispatchers Scrogham passed him traveling 120 mph on southbound U.S. 31 when he started the pursuit, an audio recording of the incident released by Bartholomew County dispatch shows.
The reserve officer had to use a cellphone to communicate with Bartholomew County dispatchers, as Nashville cars do not have the upgraded radios to connect to Bartholomew County’s radio system.
The pursuit continued at speeds more than 100 mph on U.S. 31 (National Road) through Columbus, with the officer notifying dispatch by cellphone as he passed cross streets through Columbus.
Just past the intersection of 10th Street/Taylor Road, the motorcycle turned east onto East Base Road, with the reserve officer telling dispatchers he still could see the motorcycle, but he was unfamiliar with the area. The recording also includes the reserve officer telling dispatchers he had dash camera video of the chase being recorded.
In the recording, the reserve officer says the motorcyclist ran a stop sign as he turned north on County Road 650E. Shortly after that, the reserve officer tells dispatchers he lost sight of the motorcyclist near 25th Street east of Columbus and stopped the pursuit.
No Bartholomew County sheriff’s deputies or Columbus police officers were involved in the pursuit, deputies said, although an unidentified officer at one point indicates he is waiting at 25th Street and Talley Road to see if the motorcyclist was heading that way.
The dispatch recording indicates that shortly after the pursuit ended, dispatchers ask the reserve deputy to wait, as Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Deputy Dane Duke had located the motorcycle accident and was checking Scrogham for vital signs. On the recording, the reserve deputy then asks for directions on how to get to the accident scene.
Officer placed on leave
Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers said the department sent an accident reconstructionist to the scene as part of its investigation. He has also requested a copy of the dash camera video of the chase from the Nashville Police Department. Burch provided a statement to deputies after the chase, which is part of the investigation.
Nashville Police Chief Ben Seastrom said Burch, 25, who was hired as a reserve officer in April, has been placed on administrative leave while the investigation continues. Burch is one of five reserve officers with the department, Seastrom said.
The Nashville department has a policy in place about what officers are to do in high-speed pursuits and when those pursuits are to be terminated for public safety reasons, but Seastrom declined to comment while the investigation continues.
Seastrom also said he did not know if the dash camera video would be released publicly, as it is part of the investigation.
Scrogham was remembered by East High School students for his work in a competitive cheer group and for his volunteerism, including participating in the annual Polar Plunge, which raises money for Special Olympics, said Larry Perkinson, employee and student assistance coordinator for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.
“He had a certain amount of charisma and charm,” Perkinson said of Scrogham and how East students were remembering him Tuesday. “We’ve had a number of kids who are sensitive to this loss,” he said.
Scrogham left East during the 2015-16 school year and attended Ben Davis High School for the second semester of his senior year, Perkinson said. Scrogham played football and competed on East’s track team during his high school career.
Fisher said Scrogham had just purchased the motorcycle and that he may have been unfamiliar with the sharp turn where the accident occurred.
He was the son of Calvyn Johnson-Bey and Carleen Scrogham. His funeral will be 11 a.m. Friday at Norman Funeral Home in Hope, with visitation Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m. and starting at 10 a.m. Friday until service time at the funeral home.
Julie McClure is an assistant managing editor for The Republic (Columbus), a sister newspaper to the Brown County Democrat.