LYNN HAVEN – Three people were seriously injured, two critically, in a wreck Monday on State 77 after police briefly pursued one of the vehicles in a rainstorm, authorities said.
The wreck, which occurred near 26th Street about 12:20 p.m., forced authorities to shut down the intersection for several hours while Florida Highway Patrol investigators examined the crash. Courtney Coughlin, 35, of Panama City Beach, and her passenger, 12-year-old Kayley Rice, also of Panama City Beach, were taken to a local hospital with critical injuries, troopers reported. Officials said Kayley is Coughlin’s daughter and neither was wearing a seat belt. Joshua K. Steele, 17, of Lynn Haven also was transported to a local hospital with serious injuries.
According to a Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) incident report, Coughlin ran a red light in her 2005 Chevrolet passenger car and struck Steele’s1996 Cadillac. But the chain of events that led to the wreck apparently began May 1 when Meredith Allen’s purse was stolen, Allen said. The Lynn Haven resident said Coughlin “allegedly” took the purse and used Allen’s identification to write about 20 fake checks. Shortly after noon Monday, Coughlin was in the drive-through of an Innovations Federal Credit Union in Lynn Haven, again attempting to write a bad check in Allen’s name, officials said. However; this time, Allen and Lynn Haven police were notified of the transaction. Allen arrived at the scene in her personal vehicle just in time to see a Lynn Haven officer pull in front of Coughlin at the drive-through. Coughlin then pulled out, drove around the officer, hopped a curb and turned onto State 77, Allen said. Two other Lynn Haven police cars – one marked and one unmarked – immediately pulled in behind Coughlin and began following her with their lights and sirens going, Allen said According to the FHP report, at least one of the officers “disengaged and deactivated his emergency equipment” near 24th Street.
The news release does not mention the second, unmarked, police car Allen said she went inside the bank and did not see what happened next. What happened next was that Stephanie Schafferman, a clerk at a gas station near 26th Street, heard a boom. “It sounded like lightning hitting a tree,” she said. But as Schafferman looked out past the racks of Marlboro and Newport Pleasure cigarettes, she saw the wreck. She picked up a phone and started to dial 911, but before she could call, a police car arrived on scene. An unmarked police car arrived seconds later, she added. Chief David Messer of the Lynn Haven Police Department on Monday referred all questions to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Authorities originally reported one person was dead following the accident, but troopers later said all three people involved still were alive. The News Herald confirmed Kayley was on life support late Monday. Bay County sheriff’s investigators said they are preparing to charge Coughlin with several counts of passing forged checks and another drug possession case stemming from evidence found Monday. FHP officials wrote that charges are pending in their investigation. Police have dealt with Coughlin before. In 2005, she was sentenced to two years in prison for aggravated assault with a weapon and two counts of possession of a controlled substance. “She should definitely go to jail,” Allen said. However, after hoping for weeks that Coughlin would be caught and punished, Monday’s turn of events left Allen feeling sorry for her. “I’m a mother, too,” Allen said. “I feel bad for her even though she’s caused all this herself.”
– By S. BRADY CALHOUN, News Herald Writer, Panama City News Herald, Bay County