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Police now investigating U.S. 23 incident as murder-suicide

Mike Still • Mar 12, 2019 at 12:40 AM

WISE ­— A Lee County resident near the site of a Sunday vehicle crash on U.S. Route 23 says he heard the crash and gunshots a short distance from his front window.

Clarence “Toots” Taylor, who lives yards from the crash location near U.S. 23’s mile marker 28, said on Monday that he heard five shots moments after the vehicle carrying Bailey S. Smith and Emeri A. Connery landed in the highway median about 20 feet past a drain culvert.

Virginia State Police investigators said Smith and Connery were found dead and with gunshot wounds.

In a press release issued late Monday night, the VSP said investigators have confirmed that the shootings occurred within the vehicle. Police said that, at this stage, they are investigating the incident as a murder-suicide. A firearm was recovered from inside the vehicle, the VSP said, and the there is no evidence to indicate another vehicle or individual was involved in the shootings.

VSP spokesperson Corinne Geller on Monday confirmed the identities of Smith, 21, male, of Duffield, Virginia, and Connery, 26, female, of Coolville, Ohio. The two were cousins, Geller said late Monday.

Also Monday, Big Stone Gap officials confirmed that Smith was a town police officer. The crash occurred at about 4 a.m. Sunday on northbound U.S. 23 near the Lee-Wise county line on the Lee County side, according to a VSP report. Trooper D.G. Giles responded to the scene.

The bodies of the victims were taken to the Roanoke state medical examiner’s office for autopsies and examination, Geller said. Geller said investigators had no comment Monday on where the victims had been that morning.

As Taylor looked over the crash site surrounded by tracks from emergency vehicles on Monday, he said he heard what happened.

“I woke up at three and looked at the clock and I said I’ve got about four more hours before I have to go to church,” Taylor said. “And it wasn’t long after that I heard that thump. I thought it was a rifle that went off at first but it didn’t crack like a rifle.

Asked if he saw or heard a vehicle or vehicles, Taylor said, “No, I didn’t get up and look. Most of the time when I hear a shot around here, I always turn the light on and look at the clock. But I was so tired I was wore out that day and I just rolled back over. “I wished the lord I’d looked out that window,” Taylor said. “Bang, bang, bang, and there was a hesitation and another bang, a hesitation and another bang.”

Taylor said he stayed in his house until State Police investigators arrived later.

“They came over and talked to me, but I told them I didn’t hear that truck,” said Taylor. “But after I got to thinking, that thump I heard I thought was a rifle was that truck hit that culvert. After that thump, it wasn’t just a minute or two till the pistol went off.”

The Virginia State Police is asking anyone with information about the incident to contact the Wytheville Division office at (276) 228-3131 or to email at [email protected]

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WISE — Virginia State Police investigators are releasing few details on a Sunday vehicle crash on U.S. 23 in which two people were found dead.

VSP spokesperson Corinne Geller on Monday released the names of the victims: Bailey S. Smith, 21, of Duffield, Virginia, and Emeri A. Connery, 26, of Coolville, Ohio.

Big Stone Gap officials confirmed Monday that Smith was a town police officer.

The crash occurred at about 4 a.m. Sunday on northbound U.S. 23 near the Lee-Wise county line on the Lee County side, according to a VSP report. Trooper D.G. Giles responded to the scene, where Smith and Connery were found dead and with gunshot wounds.

The bodies are at the Roanoke state medical examiner’s office for autopsies and examination, Geller said. She said investigators had no comment Monday on whether a firearm was found in the car or on where the victims had been that morning.

Geller als—o said investigators were not commenting Monday on whether Smith and Connery were related or whether foul play was suspected.

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