Crime & Courts

Columbia Carnage: Death Toll Climbs From Fatal Shooting, Pursuit, Car Crash

Three dead, including a beloved uncle, a mother and her unborn child …

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Three lives were lost during a one-man crime wave that sent police officers in South Carolina’s state capital from one end of the city to the other in pursuit of a murder suspect.

News of the crash that finally ended their pursuit was first reported by this media outlet yesterday afternoon – but subsequent updates have brought the carnage and tragedy caused by the suspect in this case into clearer focus.

And as of this writing, there are no answers as to what may have precipitated the spasm of violence …

The sad saga began shortly after 3:00 p.m. EST when Columbia police were dispatched to a car dealership at 180 Greystone Boulevard in response to reports of a shooting. The dealership – owned by JT Gandolfo – is located approximately three miles northwest of the capital.

Upon arrival, 39-year-old Graham Pope was found in a vehicle with multiple gunshot wounds. Pope would succumb to those wounds at a local hospital.

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Graham Michael Pope (Facebook)

A bachelor known by his sister’s children as “Uncle Graham,” Pope loved music, sports, photography and hanging out with his friends. One of those friends described him as “the sweetest fella ever.”

“Their whole family is heartbroken,” the friend told us.

Another one of Pope’s friends praised his loyalty.

“I always appreciated how loyal you were to your friends,” Zack Bussert of Columbia wrote on Facebook. “I’ve witnessed on more than one occasion, you having someone’s back when they were not present. Even at the expense of bitter judgment from others to do the right thing when nobody else would. You will be missed.”

Pope was fatally shot by 28-year-old Westley Tyler Gross – who was out on bond after being charged with breach of peace and pointing and presenting a firearm last February. As of this writing, investigators have not indicated what – if anything – may have precipitated the shooting and subsequent violence.

Sources familiar with the investigation say Pope was at the car dealership taking pictures of the inventory for the owners – with whom he is friends. Gross approached him while Pope was seated in the vehicle and opened fire – hitting him multiple times in the chest.

Following the shooting, Gross “drove away from the scene, taking officers on a police pursuit through downtown.”

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At 3:10 p.m. EDT – approximately ten minutes after the shooting – the gray Ford Mustang GT driven by Gross from the scene of the shooting was spotted on River Drive just northeast of the dealership. Police initiated a pursuit after the Mustang refused to stop for blue lights and accelerated toward North Main Street.

During the subsequent pursuit, a collision occurred at the intersection of North Main and Prescott which involved a Columbia police cruiser and two other vehicles. One of those vehicles – a Toyota sedan – was driven by 34-year-old Ashley Brown, who was seven months pregnant and just one day shy of her 35th birthday.

Both Brown and her unborn child, Lewis Brown, died as a result of blunt trauma sustained after their vehicle was struck by a Columbia patrol car driven by officer Darian Davis.

A baby shower for Brown had been scheduled for this Saturday (April 13, 2024).

“We can ‘bearly’ wait,” the invitation noted.

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Ashley Brown (Facebook)

“Ashley’s victories always outweighed the losses but she took those losses like a champ and never let that beautiful smile fade,” one of her relatives wrote on Facebook.

Following the initial crash that claimed the life of Brown and her son, a third vehicle careened into the collision. The driver of the third vehicle was also injured, but was treated and released from the hospital. Officer Davis remains hospitalized after undergoing surgery.

The crash that concluded this spasm of violence took place shortly before 3:30 p.m. EDT on Monday (April 8, 2024) at 2205 Shady Lane – a residence located in the affluent Lake Katharine neighborhood adjacent to Interstate 77 near Forest Acres, S.C. and Fort Jackson.

According to police, Gross drove his vehicle into the woods at the cul-de-sac at the terminus of Shady Lane and fled on foot. He was subsequently captured by police and taken into custody. Gross was armed with two weapons and multiple rounds of ammunition when he was apprehended.

Columbia police chief Skip Holbrook and Richland County coroner Naida Rutherford held a press conference on Tuesday afternoon (April 9, 2024) to provide the public with an update.

Here is that conference in its entirety …

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“I stand before you with a very heavy heart – just a broken heart,” Holbrook told reporters during the press conference. “It’s just a tragic situation.”

As noted in our coverage yesterday, investigations into the various crashes which took place during this pursuit are being led by the S.C. Highway Patrol (SCHP).

As of this writing, Gross is facing one murder charge, one weapons charge and one charge of failing to stop for blue lights. Obviously, many additional charges are forthcoming.

Gross is being held at the Alvin S. Glenn detention center in Columbia, S.C. as he awaits a bond hearing on the latest charges filed against him. As with anyone accused of committing any crime, he is considered innocent until proven guilty by our criminal justice system. His case will be prosecuted by the office of S.C. fifth circuit solicitor Byron Gipson.

Count on this media outlet to keep our audience apprised of updates as they become available …

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.

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