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New Hero Search James Mathis Beasley Jr. ("Matt") - Jun. 25, 1986 (222)

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Sweetwater Police Dept Patch
Resided: FL, USA
Born: Apr. 10, 1942  
Fallen: Jun. 25, 1986
Race/Sex: Caucasian Male / 44 yrs. of age
Agency
Dept: Sweetwater Police Dept.
Sweetwater, FL   USA
County: Dade
Dept. Type: Municipal/Police
Hero's Rank: Patrolman
Sworn Date: 6/1985
FBI Class: Homicide - Assault
Weapon Class: Vehicle
Bio: James M. Beasley was born on April 10, 1942, in Beckley, WV. He was the oldest of two children born to James Mathis Beasley Sr. and Lillian Mae Davis Beasley. The Beasley family tree indicates that the Beasley family migrated from Stokes County, NC, to Pulaski County, VA, to the Beckley WV area. His maternal grandfather was from Syria and owned a grocery store in Beckley when James' parents met and married.

His father served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and was stationed in New York and New Jersey. James' parents divorced in 1948 and James and his younger sister, Patricia Mae, lived with his mother in Michigan. During this time James came down with an illness which affected his legs and while he was in the hospital Gene Autry visited him. The local newspaper published a photo of James (Matt) with Gene Autry. Matt had a lifetime love for Western movies and his younger brother, Jerry, recalls that he often took him to see "Westerns" when he visited WV. James' father, moved to Charleston, WV, remarried and had six other children by a second marriage. James lived with his father intermittently and visited him every summer when he lived in Michigan and (later) Miami. At the age of nine, Matt moved with his mother and sister to Hialeah.

Matt attended S. Hialeah Elementary School, Miami Springs Jr. H.S., and Hialeah H.S. He left H.S. a year early to join the U.S. Air Force in May of 1960. Beasley spent six years in the Air Force (at Ft. Bragg and Pope Air Force Base in N.C.) serving as a military policeman. He also served in Germany and Korea. Sgt. Beasley was discharged in 1966 but continued to serve in the Air Force Reserves (for twenty years) until his death in 1986.

On Aug. 29, 1960, shortly after he joined the Air Force, James Beasley, 18, married Sandra Jean Craft, 17, of Hialeah. The two did not meet until 1959 though James and Sandra were both born in West Virginia, moved to Hialeah with their families as children, and attended Miami Springs Jr. H.S. at the same time. They first met when James moved next door to Sandra when both were attending Hialeah H.S. James Beasley literally met and married the "girl next door."

The couple lived in the same home (at 281 West 41st St.) in Hialeah for over 20 years and had four children, Laura (born in 1960), Kelly (born in 1964), Tracy (born in 1966), and James III (born in 1972). Beasley was known as a family man, "a straight arrow," and the "perfect husband" who "didn't drink" or "run around." He was a longtime member of the First Baptist Church of Hialeah.

Upon discharge from the Air Force, Beasley returned to Miami and worked for 18 years (1966-1984) as a produce manager for Pantry Pride, Winn-Dixie, and Bogarts. He had always wanted to be a police officer and had, in fact, been a security officer in the Air Force. However, his height (5'7") prevented his pursuing that goal until height restrictions were modified in the early 1980's.

In 1984 "Matt" Beasley, 42, fulfilled a lifetime goal and joined the Metro-Dade Police Department, graduating from the Police Academy in 1984. He served as a Metro-Dade officer for one year (at Station Five in Kendall) before he resigned on April 30, 1985. He was unhappy in the large Metro-Dade police force and decided to apply to the smaller Sweetwater Police Dept. He was hired by Sweetwater on June 30, 1985, after being recommended by Metro-Dade.

Beasley had been on the Sweetwater Police force for one year when he was killed. His Sweetwater police personnel file was filled with good deeds and marks for outstanding police work. The Sweetwater Chief indicated that Beasley always showed up at least an hour early before his (afternoon) shift to read bulletins, make calls, etc., and that he never asked for overtime pay for this extra work.

Survived by:
Sandra Jean Beasley - Wife

three daughters, Laura J. Pizzi, 25, of Plant City, FL, Kelly L. Hepler, 22, of Miramar and Tracy S. Beasley, 19, of Hialeah; a son, James M. Beasley, III, 13, of Hialeah; three grandchildren, Meranda & Dustin Pizzi of Plant City, FL, and Tara Lynn Hepler of Miramar; his father, James M. Beasley, Sr., 71, of W.V., and mother, Lillian Sherry, 70, of TN; one sister, Patricia Armstrong, 42, of Spring City, TN; four half-sisters, Margaret, Mary, Marcella, and Melinda Beasley, all of the Charleston, W.V. area; and two half-brothers, Jerry A. and Timothy of Charleston, W.V.

Fatal Incident Summary
Offender: Miguel Ernesto Lingren
  
Location: FL   USA   Wed. Jun. 25, 1986
Summary: James Mathis "Matt" Beasley, Jr., 44, was struck and killed by a pickup truck at a roadblock at the conclusion of a 70 mile high speed police chase across the southern tip of Florida on June 25, 1986. He became the first police officer killed in the 45-year history of the Sweetwater Police Dept. which was created in 1941. The Sweetwater force in 1986 was comprised of only 19 men.

The chase began at 6:42PM on Wednesday, June 25, 1986, in Collier County at the intersection of U.S. Highway 42 (Tamiami Trail) and State Road 29 (30 miles east of Naples and 70 miles west of Miami). A Collier County deputy, Louis Edmonson, began chasing a 1984 red and silver Ford Ranger pickup for speeding. The deputy tried to stop the pickup after clocking it at 78 mph in a 55 mph zone.

However, the driver sped off in an eastern direction toward Miami and the chase was on. Police later found out that the pickup had been reported stolen in Tampa. The deputy was soon joined by three other Collier County deputies, two officers from the Florida, Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, and two officers from Everglades City in a chase that reached speeds of 70 to 80 mph on the two-lane highway.

The chase vehicles tried getting in front of Lingren's pickup truck to slow him down but he kept "ramming the cruisers, damaging the rear ends of the cars." The pickup truck being pursued lost the right front tire, wheel, brakes, and calipers during the chase but still was clocked at nearly 80 mph on three tires.

As the chase continued into Dade the driver of the pickup truck, swerving and bobbing and weaving all over the roadway, forced two of the pursuing cars off the road. One deputy was able to immediately rejoin the chase while the other, Travis Goff, 36, sustained minor back injuries when his car ran off the road. The officer rejoined the chase after several unsuccessful attempts to restart his car.

Officers involved in the chase reported that the driver seemed to make a special effort not to hit a civilian vehicle as he would swerve around them but he made every effort to ram any police vehicle that got too close. Recognizing this pattern, the police vehicles then "just tried to stay in front and behind him to prevent other motorists from being hurt." Thus the "lead" police vehicles tried to "speed up to avoid being hit from behind" but this practice was impossible once they begin to hit the heavier traffic near Miami. At Krome Ave. Collier County officers broke off the chase which was taken up by the Florida Highway Patrol and the Metro-Dade Police Dept. As the pickup truck sped into Dade County with its heavy urban traffic, police decided that the speeding pickup would have to be stopped. The Sweetwater Police Dept. became the sixth law enforcement agency involved in the chase when several of its officers converged on the chase path. One Sweetwater officer tried to pull in front of the speeding pickup but the driver went around the police cruiser.

At 112 Ave. and Tamiami Trail, a location adjacent to the northern entrance to Florida International University, four Sweetwater officers, tried to create a roadblock approximately 350 feet west of S.W. 112 Ave. Officer Beasley, one of the four Sweetwater officers, had been "listening to the chase on his inter-city radio" and parked his cruiser "facing west in the far left lane on the eastbound side of the Trail" (i.e., his cruiser was parked on the south side of the eastbound lanes, close to the shoulder). Beasley then got out of his vehicle and stood by it "attempting to flag the pickup to a stop."

The Sweetwater Police Dept. did not have a written roadblock policy but Chief Ray Toledo later said his officers were "trained to leave an exit for a fleeing driver when they set up a roadblock" (Beasley did leave the inside eastbound lane open). FHP policy at the time required that roadblock vehicles be positioned "just outside the roadway, not in the roadway itself" (unlike the type of roadblocks shown on TV where the entire roadway is blocked).

When Beasley realized that the pickup was not going to stop, "he attempted to run into a grassy strip that separates Tamiami Trail from Southwest 117th Ave. He almost got out of the way." FHP traffic homicide investigator Ed Hotaling and Sweetwater Sgt. Oscar Perez watched in horror as the pickup "swerved to its right and into the grassy area, striking the officer as he tried to dive out of its way."

The observers estimated that the pickup was traveling around 80 mph when it hit Beasley. The officer was "catapulted nearly 200 feet into the air." Another Sweetwater officer "saw something fly up into the air" and thought "it was a tire, a rock. I couldn't believe it was a human being." It was 7:40PM.

Officers at the scene reported that when Beasley saw that the speeding pickup was not going to stop and was headed straight for him, he attempted to run to the shoulder of the road. However, the driver of the pickup appeared to keep "correcting" and "aiming" his vehicle at the running "target" (Officer Beasley). However, as noted later in this narrative, the Beasley family through its attorney would later challenge the "Lingren targeted Beasley" view of the police and the State Attorney and argued at the civil trial that Lindgren was "boxed in" by FHP and had no choice (i.e., no "open lane") but to head for the shoulder of the road where Beasley was running.

Officer Beasley was struck while he was on the grass to the south of his patrol car. The impact knocked Beasley 157 feet down the road. He was airlifted by Air Rescue to Baptist Hospital where he was placed on "the thumper" in an unsuccessful attempt at resuscitation. He was declared dead at 8:44PM. The death certificate listed cause of death as "multiple injuries."

After the pickup hit Beasley it continued eastward on the shoulder and crossed S.W. 112 Ave. before pulling back on Tamiami Trail. The pickup then traveled for 16 more blocks before it ran off the Trail at S.W. 94th Ave. and became bogged down in the grassy shoulder of the road. The axle had broken and "dug down into the dirt." The driver lost control when the right front rim "began to break up, followed by a brake pad...nothing remained of the rim, brake pad or axle." The driver was not injured.

The pickup was surrounded by units from FHP, Metro-Dade and Collier County. The driver was removed from the truck at gun point and placed in a Metro-Dade police vehicle. He offered no resistance but "just smiled and held up his passport." He was taken to a Metro police car where he sat "muttering to himself." He told the arresting officers that he was "on his way to Brazil" and kept showing them his passport.

Disposition: Lingren was arraigned on July 12, 1986, and entered a plea of not guilty and trial was set for Oct. 20, 1986, before Judge David Gersten. However, after a psychiatric exam, Lingren was declared incompetent to stand trial and was committed to a state mental hospital where he remained as of Dec. of 1995. The State Attorney has assured the Beasley family that Lindgren will not be released without prior notification to the family.

Source: Book       Excerpted in part or in whole from Dr. Wilbanks book-

FORGOTTEN HEROES: POLICE OFFICERS KILLED IN DADE COUNTY, FL, 1895-1995

by William Wilbanks

Louisville: Turner Publications

1996

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