Clinton police investigators say arrests are imminent in a gun battle that erupted along N.C. 24 in the wee hours of Monday morning, a shootout that continued into the city limits and included a wreck and more gunfire before it ended underneath the U.S. 421/701 bypass (Faircloth Freeway).
Five suspects have been identified in the melee and, according to police chief Jay Tilley, a sixth suspect could be involved. Four of those, the chief noted, were being treated for their injuries — some at Sampson Regional, others at Wake Med — and one more, an individual out of Roseboro, has been positively identified. Nobody is in custody at this time.
“We are wading through it all right now,” Tilley said late Monday afternoon, having spent the better part of the morning at the crime scene. “We have to look at all the physical evidence versus the statements were are getting to piece it all together. And, we’ve got to give all the individuals involved an opportunity to receive treatment for their injuries. Once we do all that, I anticipate some arrests.”
The incident is believed to have started sometime before 4 a.m. at a back-yard club in Sampson County. Some sort of dispute, Tilley said, began at that club and continued during a high speed chase involving two vehicles that started in the county and moved into the city limits, ending with the wreck and additional gunfire.
The incident, said to have reached its peak around 4:26 a.m., sent six people to the hospital. At least one of them is in critical condition and two of them were innocent travelers that got caught up in the melee.
According to a press release issued by the Clinton Police Department, Ray and Cassandera Cuvilje of Harrells were traveling N.C. 24 (Sunset Avenue) west near Westover Road when the truck they were riding in was rear-ended by one of the suspect vehicles, forcing it into a telephone pole and causing it to overturn. Ray Cuvilje was treated and released at Sampson Regional His wife was transported to Wake Med where she remained Monday night. A condition report was not available at press time. Neither, officers said, had sustained gunshot wounds.
One of the suspect vehicles, an Acura Legend, is the one that struck Cuvilje’s Ford 150 truck, causing massive front end damage to the car and causing it to be disabled across two-lanes of travel on N.C. 24
The other vehicle in the chase, a white Pontiac, stopped after the collision, and several more gunshots were exchanged between the occupants in the Pontiac and those in the Acura in the middle of Sunset Avenue. The Pontiac fled the scene before police arrived. Police have since located and seized the Pontiac, discovered in the Roseboro area shortly before noon Monday.
Three occupants of the Acura, police said, were also transported to Sampson Regional, and two of them have since been transferred to Wake Med. A fourth individual involved in the incident brought himself to the hospital sometime Monday morning. It is still unclear which vehicle he was in at the time of the incident.
Two of the four individuals had gunshot wounds, police acknowledged.
Authorities are currently trying to confirm the identities of all the suspects.
Tilley said three weapons had been recovered at the crime scene Monday, and officers continued to wade through an assortment of other evidence.
Some of that evidence was obvious to onlookers who gathered in nearby business parking lots because it was strewn across N.C. 24, where officers worked the bulk of the morning trying to bag and tag everything as they pieced together what occurred.
Tilley said Monday afternoon it likely all boiled down to the dispute. “It may not be much more complicated than that, really. It’s hard to imagine a running gun battle down N.C. 24 in Sampson County and Clinton; you just don’t expect that, but sometimes the unexpected happens. It’s uncharacteristic of our town.”
N.C. 24 blocked
The incident and its aftermath, including debris, two wrecked vehicles, a downed power line and tons of evidence scattered across all four lanes of travel, forced the closure of a portion of N.C. 24 at Westover Avenue, including exit and on ramps for the U.S. 421/701 bypass, for some 10 hours.
With help from the local Department of Transportation and the Sampson Sheriff’s Department, traffic was rerouted and, though backed up at times along both Westover Avenue and Elizabeth Street, did not cause serious problems.
There was no school Monday and only light business traffic because of the Labor Day holiday, meaning traffic was not nearly as heavy as normal along the always busy N.C. 24 into Clinton.
“Everything went very smoothly,” Tilley said of the traffic detours. “We didn’t have any problems. I’ve been very pleased with how everyone has worked on this investigation.”
Detours ended around 3 p.m. Monday.