I've never seen a repo agent be this aggressive —Pleasant Grove Police Lt. Britt Smith
PLEASANT GROVE — A Pleasant Grove mother of two crashed into a tree and died early Tuesday while being chased by a man repossessing her car, according to police.
Ashleigh Holloway Best, 35, was estimated to be traveling at least 70 mph on a 35 mph road when she smashed into a tree about 12:20 a.m. at 682 N. 100 East. She had to be extricated from the vehicle and was pronounced dead at the scene, said Pleasant Grove Police Lt. Britt Smith.
"I've never, in my 15 years of law enforcement, I've never seen a repo agent be this aggressive. I've never seen anything like it," Smith said.
Kenneth Drew, 49, of American Fork, an employee of On Demand Repos, was booked into the Utah County Jail for investigation of manslaughter.
Brian Edwards, owner of the repo company, said he talked to Drew on the phone shortly after the crash. He said Drew claims he wasn't chasing Best.
"He told me she started going really fast so he stopped," Edwards said. "My driver, he's a good guy. He doesn't have a mean bone in his body. His does his job. He respects people. I don't know the whole details of last night. I just wish everybody would wait to see what the investigation shows."
A police affidavit calls Drew's actions "reckless" and says he chased after the woman.
Police say Drew went to Best's residence, 740 E. Cherryhill Dr., early Tuesday to repossess her car on behalf of Titlemax Georgia. Best, who was recently married and has two young children, had just moved to Utah from Florida to live with her parents while the family worked to get back on their feet, Smith said.
He described the family as being down on their luck and the vehicle Drew attempted to repossess was their only car.
Drew showed up at Best's house with a tow truck and was backing his truck up to the Lincoln Navigator when a man came out of the house and stepped between the truck and the vehicle, according to a police affidavit. The man told Drew he wasn't going to let him take the vehicle.
Drew said he told the man he was ordered by a bank to repossess it.
"Kenneth stated the male asked to have just a few moments to contact the bank and become current on his delinquent payments, again, to which Kenneth agreed," the affidavit states.
"During the course of that, there was an argument that ensued," Smith said. "The victim removed the vehicle and left the residence. Once she left the residence, the tow truck gave chase. There was a pursuit that lasted between 10 to 12 blocks. And eventually the victim's vehicle left the roadway and struck a tree at a high rate of speed, which caused her fatal injuries."
Drew told detectives he was sitting in his tow truck waiting for the other man when Best got into the car and started to drive off, according to the affidavit.
He said he tried to block her from leaving, but she drove around him. "Kenneth stated he then 'accelerated quickly' to chase after the vehicle because they were trying to avoid the repossession," police wrote.
During the pursuit, Drew told police that the driver "had her tail lights off and she struck the rear, passenger side quarter-panel of his tow truck," according to the report.
But based on physical evidence — and an interview with Drew's girlfriend who was in the tow truck with him and used the word "chase" multiple times to describe the incident — police determined the tow truck was driving as fast as the fleeing vehicle, the affidavit states. At one point, police believe the vehicles were parallel and the tow truck pulled slightly ahead.
"The tow truck was applying brakes, or had a tire locked up from turning possibly when the tow truck made contact with the Navigator," police wrote. The vehicle then went over the curb and onto the sidewalk before hitting the tree.
Edwards said that according to Drew, Best hit his tow truck with her car while trying to flee. When Best started driving fast, Drew backed off and was going to look for the vehicle again later, he said.
The company's policy is not to chase anyone, Edwards said. If someone tries to flee, "We let 'em go," he said. "Not worth anyone getting injured."
The girlfriend told police "she was scared during the incident and she didn't know if Kenneth had purposely ran the female off the roadway or not," according to the affidavit. She said she also "wondered why they were even chasing the female."
Regardless of whether Best should have driven off in the car, Smith said it didn't give Drew the right to chase after her.
"It doesn't justify chasing her down through the roads, city streets, at high rates of speeds, causing fatal traffic accidents. The end doesn't justify the means," Smith said.
Edwards called his employee an "honest man" and said his heart goes out to Best's family as well as Drew. He also noted that since the crash, his business has been receiving threatening phone calls from the public.
"Repo gets a bad name. I've been in business 17 years and nothing like this has come close to happening — never," Edwards said.
Smith said the investigation Tuesday was focused on whether Drew forced Best off of the road or if she lost control because she was being pursued. Drugs and alcohol do not appear to be factors in the case, he said.
Contributing: Shara Park, Ladd Egan