Kent. trooper tried to help suspect before fatal shooting

Published 10:04 am Tuesday, September 15, 2015

EDDYVILLE, Ky. — A Kentucky State Police trooper wanted to do a favor for the driver he pulled over late at night. It turned out the man was driving with a suspended license, so the lawman was arranging for overnight lodging for the man and his fellow travelers, including two children.

Those plans soon unraveled, with tragic results. During the stop on a rural stretch of interstate, the driver took off. What ensued was a chain of events that led to the deaths of the lawman and the suspect, authorities said.

Trooper Joseph Cameron Ponder, 31, was shot by the suspect during a second stop late Sunday in western Kentucky, Trooper Jay Thomas, a state police spokesman, said Monday.

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Ponder, a Navy veteran, had been on the state police force less than a year.

“He was trying to help them out, and for an unknown reason, the driver fled,” Thomas said.

“At the initial stop, it was his intent to put them all in a hotel without having to apprehend the driver,” Thomas added. “After he initiated the pursuit, I’m sure his mind was changed on that.”

The suspect, 25-year-old Joseph Thomas Johnson-Shanks of Florissant, Missouri, ran away after Ponder was shot.

Johnson-Shanks was found after a massive overnight manhunt in a wooded area about 9 miles from the initial stop and less than a mile from where the trooper had been gunned down, Thomas said.

Johnson-Shanks drew a weapon at police, ignored commands to drop his weapon and was shot Monday, Thomas said. He died later at a hospital.

Ponder made the initial stop because the suspect was driving 103 mph while heading westbound on Interstate 24, Thomas said.

Police investigators were still trying to piece together what spurred Johnson-Shanks to flee during the initial stop. Johnson-Shanks had four passengers: two adult women and two young children. Neither of the other adults in the car had a driver’s license, Thomas said.

An 18-year-old woman in the car, Johnson-Shanks’ niece, Ambrea R.J. Shanks of Florissant, was charged with first-degree hindering prosecution or apprehension and taken to jail Monday, police said.