CINCINNATI - Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher says a woman has died after she was run over by a cruiser driven by a Cincinnati police officer in Over-the-Rhine on Tuesday.
Streicher says officer Marty Polk was patrolling Washington Park when he made a turn off of a walking path and accidentally struck the woman.
Family members identify the victim as 48-year-old Joann Burton.
Witnesses tell 9 News Burton was lying on the ground in blankets when she was run over by the cruiser around 11:45 a.m.
"I was standing on the gazebo over here at Washington Park and the officer, I was standing up there dancing, and the officer was staring at me while I was dancing and then he all of a sudden goes through the grass and runs the lady over. He ran the lady over. The backpack is still up under the tire," Deborah Gross said.
John Ridley, who says he was in the park when the incident happened, tells 9 News Polk looked like he was going to approach a man who had an open container.
"She was laying up in the park. The police from what I understand was trying to run after somebody with a beer. He hit her. He ran over her up in the grass. Went up in the grass and run over her," Ridley said.
Chief Streicher says Polk was doing a routine check of the park and for some reason made a turn onto the grassy area and felt a bump.
"An officer was patrolling through the park and was on a service road. For whatever reason, turned east towards the park in the grassy area. You can see there are blankets there. At some point he felt a bump and stopped his vehicle. As he got out of his vehicle he said a lady screamed and sat up there and said you ran over my legs," Streicher said.
Burton then sat up and was talking to the officer, according to Streicher. Emergency crews were called and transported her to University Hospital where she later died.
"Initially she seemed like she was OK. Contacted fire to send an EMS unit here and also contacted, the officer contacted his supervisor and advised him that he had been involved in an accident. She was here and looked at by the fire department. A decision was made to transport her to the hospital to determine her actual injuries. At some point at the hospital apparently she took a turn for the worse. The hospital personnel addressed her and she is deceased at this time," Chief Streicher said.
Streicher says Officer Polk is a 25-year veteran of the force.
Josh Spring of the Homeless Coalition says they demand justice for the victim and that it wasn't right that an officer would drive on the grass if he saw blankets in the area. He also says the victim and her husband recently became homeless.
"I would hope that certainly a veteran officer and that any officer would think twice about fitting their automobile in a cramped area and especially when they see a blanket. In a park, a blanket usually means there is somebody underneath it. I don't think most citizens would make this mistake. We have to question why a police officer, who by the way is a park police officer, he's been in this park before. He's driven through this park before I'm sure and other parks perhaps, how could he make this mistake," Spring said.
Another witness, identified as Sean Barham, says Officer Polk is known to issue citations at the park for open containers.
Barham says it appears Officer Polk spotted a group of people with open containers and drove across the grass not realizing the victim was lying in the blankets.
A woman who knew Burton from the park tells 9 News she was a very friendly woman and always said hello to people.
Chief Streicher says he contacted the Ohio State Highway Patrol to conduct the investigation.
Members of the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office were also called to the scene.
City Manager Milton Dohoney, Jr. released the following statement on Tuesday:
"Today’s incident is a terrible tragedy and our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by it. I ask the community to keep all involved in their prayers as well.
There are not enough details yet to know exactly what happened--- we have to let the investigation proceed before any conclusions can be reached. The Ohio State Patrol has been called in to serve as the lead agency investigating the officer-involved incident; the Cincinnati Police are now in a support role."
Burton leaves behind a husband, children and a brother and a sister.
Burton's brother Jerome Burton and nephew Rick Lundy came to the park to see the scene of the accident.
The Coalition for the Homeless held a memorial Tuesday evening in honor of Burton in Washington Park at the gazebo.
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