Bloomington, Ill. Shannon Smith drove off from a service station without paying for a tank of gas, something the mentally disabled man had done on other occasions.
In the past, he usually returned to pay for the fuel. But this time, on July 24, police gave chase. Hours later, the 27-year-old Smith was dead, shot in the back as he sat behind the wheel of his car, boxed in by police vehicles.
Now prosecutors say the part-time policeman who killed Smith went beyond the bounds of justifiable use of force. Officer Jeffrey Gabor, 23, was charged Thursday with first- and second-degree murder and ordered held on $500,000 bond.
"This is just such a tragedy from beginning to end, and it's hurt a lot of people," said Judy Widman, assistant manager at the gas station in Chenoa, where the incident began. "It's still hurting a lot of people."
What is known is that police were called when Smith drove off from the Citgo station in Chenoa, about 25 miles north of Bloomington, without paying for $15.05 in gas. Officers from three agencies began a chase after he was spotted about an hour later.
Witnesses said the officers boxed his vehicle in at a bridge with their vehicles, then fired more than 20 shots mostly at the tires of Smith's car after Smith backed into an unoccupied police car while trying to get away.
Construction workers nearby said one officer fired through the back window of the car. A coroner's report said Smith died of five gunshot wounds to the back.
State law says an officer may use potentially deadly force "only when he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself" or another person.
One unanswered question is why the chase began in the first place.
Chenoa Police Chief Ron Corrie said Smith had been reported for driving off without paying for gas several times, but was never prosecuted.
Bob Wicker, who lives next door to Smith's mobile home, said a Chenoa officer was in the driveway waiting for Smith to come home when the shooting occurred. Wicker said the officer told him he planned to quietly arrest Smith at the front door.
"I don't understand how the situation could get so violent over $15 worth of gas," Wicker said.