Officer placed on leave after fatal crash

BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY — Nashville and Bartholomew County police are investigating a motorcycle crash that killed a Hope teenager last week.

It happened minutes after an off-duty Nashville Police Department reserve officer started a pursuit in excess of 100 mph.

Xavier M. Scrogham, 18, was found by a Bartholomew County sheriff’s deputy at 11:43 p.m. Aug. 29 after the motorcyclist missed a 90-degree turn on Sunland Road east of Columbus.

Scrogham went across a grassy area before striking a telephone guide wire, which knocked off his helmet and resulted in him being thrown from his Honda motorcycle, Bartholomew County Coroner Larry Fisher said.

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Scrogham died at the scene from head and neck trauma, Fisher said.

His motorcycle was found in a soybean field, deputies said.

How it began

The pursuit started about 10 minutes before the accident, according to the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department.

It was initiated by off-duty Nashville Police Department reserve officer Leonard Burch, who was driving a marked vehicle southbound on U.S. 31 near Taylorsville.

A sheriff’s department statement 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 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.

‘I want answers’

Burch has been placed on administrative leave while the investigation continues, Nashville Police Chief Ben Seastrom said.

Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers said the department sent an accident reconstructionist to the scene. He has requested a copy of the dash camera video of the chase. Burch provided a statement to deputies after the chase, which is part of the investigation.

Burch, 25, was accepted as a reserve officer in April, Seastrom said.

He is one of five reserve officers with the department; they are volunteers. “They have a very large role as if they were a paid police officer while on duty,” Seastrom said.

Even when not on duty, “they do have the same powers; we don’t utilize them in that way and that’s part of our investigation,” Seastrom said.

Reserve officers receive the same police training as full-time officers, including 24 hours of training every year, he said.

The Nashville department has a policy about what officers are to do in pursuits and when those pursuits are to be terminated for public safety reasons, but Seastrom declined to comment on the policy while the investigation continues.

He said the dash camera video would not be released publicly right now, as it is part of the investigation.

“I know you want answers; I want answers,” Seastrom said. “I want to make sure I have my investigation completed before we go too much further.”

Teen remembered

Scrogham was remembered by Columbus 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.

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.

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 was Friday at Norman Funeral Home in Hope.