By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Why did a Monroe County man steal a bobtail truck from a Beatrice lumber yard on July 31? Why did he fire an automatic rifle at lawmen who pursued the stolen semi-cab through four counties? Finally, why did the man leap to his death from one of Interstate 65’s tallest bridges after deciding to end the chase?
The answers to those questions and others are being sought by investigators with the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office, which assumed the lead role in the probe after the incident carried through Monroe, Escambia and Baldwin counties before ending along the banks of the Mobile River.
The chase — which eventually involved deputies from Monroe, Escambia, Baldwin and Mobile counties, as well as Alabama State Troopers and police from Monroeville, Atmore, Poarch, and Bay Minette — began around 8 p.m. at a Monroe County lumber mill and ended on the hard ground about 100 feet below the General W.K. Wilson Bridge and about a hundred miles from where it started.
According to official reports, a man later identified as 27-year-old Rico Ricardo Crosby of Beatrice, a tiny community of about 300 in Monroe County, stole a Mack truck from Scotch Plywood Co. Monroe County deputies investigated the incident, and one soon encountered Crosby as he drove the stolen truck along Alabama 21, just north of Monroeville.
According to Monroe County Sheriff Tom Tate, the suspect turned onto the Highway 21 Bypass and continued through Monroeville, Frisco City and Uriah as deputies remained in pursuit, lights flashing and sirens screaming.
As Crosby approached Huxford, Escambia County (Ala.) deputies and state troopers set up a roadblock at which troopers placed tire spikes along the two-lane blacktop. Tate said Crosby “came through the blockade and hit the spikes, deflating one front tire, then continued to drive” to I-65, where he headed south.
Major Anthony Lowery of the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office said in a press release that Crosby refused to stop, even though the tire situation had deteriorated by the time the chase carried into Mobile County and onto the tall twin highway spans, familiarly known as the Dolly Parton Bridge.
“Not only was the tire gone, the actual rim was starting to go away, too,” Lowery reported. “It was down to literally the hub part of the wheel, and his driving became even more erratic. He continued to contact the guardrail on the bridge and as he started down the down slope, deputies reported that he was opening and closing the driver door.”
Before the chase carried that far, though, Crosby reportedly fired several shots from an AK-47 assault rifle at Escambia County deputies, who fired back, and rammed an ECSO patrol car with the bobtail cab. Several motorists along the interstate captured video of parts of the chase and posted it on various social media sites.
According to a published report, Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith said that as the chase continued along 21, a local deputy “got in front of the vehicle in an attempt to slow it down and to warn oncoming traffic, but the truck rear-ended the patrol car and kept going.”
According to sheriff’s reports, Crosby called 9-1-1 at least three times during the chase, telling Poarch Creek Indian emergency dispatchers that he was in the throes of some unnamed medical or mental issue and that he had the assault rifle — which by Monday afternoon had still not been found — in the cab of the truck.
Lowery said the 9-1-1 calls raised even more questions.
“Whether he was trying to get contact from law enforcement or avoid contact with law enforcement, I’m not sure, but certainly you wouldn’t think anyone that’s calling 9-1-1 is trying to avoid contact with law enforcement,” the BCSO spokesman said.
The suspect reportedly had turned off all the truck’s lights after hitting the interstate, making it harder for pursuing lawmen to tell if he threw the weapon out. Bay Minette police, stationed on the Alabama 287 bridge, fired several shots at the fleeing vehicle as it passed beneath them, but neither slowed nor stopped it.
Reports show that the disabled Mack, pouring fluids and with a shower of sparks flying from the left front wheel well, finally came to a stop around 10:30 p.m. after crossing the bridge’s apex.
“As the truck approached the south end of (the bridge), it slowed down and he bailed out,” said the Monroe County sheriff. “(Crosby) jumped over the railing in what is thought to be an attempt to escape law enforcement.”
Officers searched the truck in vain for Crosby’s body before discovering it on a patch of dry land beneath the towering span.
A Mobile television station reported that Baldwin County Coroner Stanley Vinson ruled that Crosby died of blunt force trauma. The coroner reported that there was no evidence of gunshot wounds on Crosby’s body, which had reportedly been sent to the state crime lab for a forensic autopsy.