SOUTH FULTON, Ga. — It was a fiery crash involving South Fulton police officer Deonte Walker that left many wondering whether it could've been prevented.
Officials said Walker was chasing a stolen Mercedes-Benz on Nov. 11 when he slammed into a white van carrying six people. Both the patrol car and the van went up in flames. Three people inside that van were killed. Officer Walker was able to escape with the help of Corey Blalock, another officer in a separate car.
"Officer Blalock is back at work now, he is doing very well now. He didn't sustain any injuries during the course of the accident. He did have some smoke inhalation from the fire that occurred," South Fulton Police Chief Keith Meadows told 11Alive's Elwyn Lopez.
Chief Meadows said he rewrote the pursuit policy shortly after taking office in September, "which was nearly two months prior to the incident occurring." But it wasn't vetted, approved and implemented until Nov. 27 -- 16 days after the deadly accident.
One big change in the policy: South Fulton police officers are now prohibited from chasing stolen vehicles.
But it's unclear whether that would've stopped Walker from pursuing that stolen Mercedes-Benz.
Chief Meadows told Lopez the department is still evaluating all the "facts associated with that," but said, "When we looked at the circumstances surrounding this particular theft of the vehicle, certainly we know the victim was in the immediate presence when the vehicle was taken. In fact, the vehicle was running at that time."
Photos: South Fulton police cruiser involved in accident
That would be hijacking of a motor vehicle, something that, according to the original and revised policy, would not have prohibited Walker from chasing that stolen car.
Georgia State Patrol is handling the investigation.
Meadows said Officer Walker was injured in the accident, and since then has "had some challenges." Meadows added, "We are trying to make sure that we give him all of the support that he needs to ultimately come back to work one day."
In the meantime, Walker is on paid administrative leave pending the investigation's outcome. Once the GSP concludes the investigation, Chief Meadows says they will make an evaluation of the officer's actions "from start to finish," and "will make a determination on whether any of our procedures or policies were violated."
The driver of the van, Gilmar Gomez Lopez, said he didn't see or hear the lights and sirens of the patrol car at the time of the accident. Officer Walker says he had them on. One of the surviving victims of the crash, Menfil Martin, said he heard the sirens but didn't see the lights.
But Chief Meadows says it's simply not possible to turn on the sirens without the lights in the police department's patrol cars.
"Our sirens in the car, they have a lever. If you want to turn on your blue lights, you push the lever from number one to number two. And if you want to turn on your blue lights and siren, you push it from two to three," Chief Meadows demonstrated.
11Alive's Elwyn Lopez asked GSP whether Officer Walker had both his sirens and lights on during the chase, and the agency said, in part, "this is something that the investigators are looking more into."
Chief Meadows says, "it's a very difficult situation for everyone involved, and we want to make sure that we recognize that, not just for Officer Walker, but for those people that were in that van the night that the incident occurred."
Adding, "I think the best way we can honor the people that perished in that accident," he added, "is by constantly taking a look at ourselves, and not just those individuals but our officer, as well."