A 24-year-old police officer in Virginia died after being dragged by a vehicle during a traffic stop, and the driver is facing charges that include felony homicide, Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said Friday during an emotional news conference.
Katie Thyne, a Navy veteran and mother from New Hampshire, was one of two police officers who were standing by the driver's-side door of a vehicle when it accelerated forward and drove a block before slamming into a tree on Thursday evening, Drew said.
Drew said the driver's side door was open, and the officers had just asked the driver to step out of the car.
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"One officer was able to step out of the way, and she was not," Drew said.
Drew said Thyne was pinned between the door and the tree. She was flown to a hospital in nearby Norfolk where she died from her injuries.
"Katie was a true hero," said Drew, who took long pauses during the news conference to regain his composure.
"She had been here a short time with us, but she made a big impact on this department," the chief said. "She was just full of life. She was always smiling. Always."
Drew identified the driver as Vernon Green II. He said that Green's vehicle was pulled over because the officers were investigating a drug complaint. He said they had smelled a strong odor from the car.
The chief said Green was arrested after a short foot chase. Besides the felony homicide charge, Drew said Green faces charges of eluding police and possessing narcotics. It's unclear if Green has hired an attorney.
Drew said police were still investigating the incident and officers have body camera footage as well as other evidence they were still processing.
Thyne was from New Hampshire and had served in the U.S. Navy before joining the Newport News Police Department, Drew said. She remained in the U.S. Navy reserves.
She was a 2013 graduate of Alvrine High School in Hudson, New Hampshire. Bill Hughen, the district's director of school counseling, was Thyne's guidance counselor all four years of high school. He said Thyne was a teacher's aide and a member of the JROTC program.
"She could blend with everybody and carry on a conversation with anybody on any topic. Her excitement was contagious," Hughen said.
Officers at the Hudson Police Department wore black mourning bands over their badges Friday. The chief said a group of them plan to attend funeral services for Thyne.
"Even though it happened 700 miles away from here, it has great impact to the town of Hudson," Hudson Police Chief Bill Avery said. "Any line of duty death hits home."
Drew said that Thyne leaves behind a 2-year-old daughter and a partner as well as her mother, stepfather and brother.
"This is what she wanted to do," Drew said. "She wanted to be in law enforcement, and she wanted to do it in this city. She was very active in the community. Sometimes we try to teach that. But she got it."
Newport News is a city of 180,000 people that sits along the James River near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. It's home to a shipyard that builds the nation's aircraft carriers and is near the world's largest navy base in Norfolk.