Friday, March 23, 2018

Residences sit along Bunting Street near the location where Preston David Bell was shot to death after a car chase with Billings police early the morning of Saturday, Nov. 18. A 2011 graduate of Hardin High School, Bell was active in sports, but became caught up in drugs and counterfeiting as he grew older.

Hardin graduate shot to death following high-speed chase through Billings

A 2011 Hardin High School graduate was fatally shot early the morning of Saturday, Nov. 18 following a car chase with Billings police that ended along Bunting Street near his mother’s house. At 12:13 a.m. that day, five officers fired into the flatbed truck of 24-year-old Preston David Bell, two using patrol rifles and three with handguns. Cliff Mahoney, deputy coroner for Yellowstone County, could not confirm the number of times Bell was shot in the altercation.
Soon after the shooting, officers secured Bell and applied first aid until a medical unit could arrive. However, responders found he had already died. No one else was injured during the incident.
Bell’s obituary describes him as “a loving, caring and talented young man that was loved deeply by his family”  who also “had a strong passion for the game of hoops.” He was the father of a daughter and son. In high school, he was active in basketball, football and weight club.
Court documents from his past also indicate he had a history of abusing methamphetamine, marijuana and alcohol; and dealing in counterfeit money. At the time of a revocation of supervised release on May 17, he was facing two partner or family member assault charges. He hadn’t found a job in nearly two years.
Calling him a “bright young man,” Deputy Federal Defender Steven Babcock believed Bell could succeed if he was placed in a halfway house, and given treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues. Assistant U.S. Attorney Colin Rubich was less optimistic.
“I think this is one of those frustrating cases where we seem to be spinning our wheels here,” Rubich commented to U.S. District Judge Susan Watters during the revocation proceedings. “One would hope once we get to supervised release that we’re going in the right direction, but I don’t know that we’re going anywhere.”
Late-night call
Billings police reports state the series of events that led to the shooting began about 11:15 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 17 when officers were dispatched to the 100 Block of Prickett Lane to deal with a disorderly male. By the time officers arrived, the suspect had used his truck to ram the caller’s car twice and drive away.
“There was a relationship there,” stated Billings Police Chief Rich St. John. “They were ex- boyfriend and girlfriend.”
Shortly afterwards, police officers spotted the suspect returning to a residence on the 100 Block. Officers did attempt to stop him, but he left the scene and chose to ignore them.
At 11:40 p.m., the suspect was spotted traveling east down Central Avenue. Officers began pursuit, but called off the chase within about 30 seconds. By then, they had learned their suspect was Bell. He was intoxicated and possibly armed with a knife, and authorities believed he was heading toward Bunting Street. He was presumed to be heading for his mother’s house.
An officer spotted Bell traveling at a high speed and followed him. The chase, which reached about 60 miles per hour, split from Central to Moore Lane. Eventually, Bell reached Shiloh Road and began driving south – the wrong way, traffic-wise. Police called off the chase once again when he turned onto Monad Road. He was a little more than six miles from his presumed destination.
Shooting incident
At 12:10 a.m., Bell’s truck was spotted in a parking lot with him slumped over the steering wheel. The police deployed spike strips behind the truck’s tires and surrounded it with patrol vehicles. Bell remained slumped over the steering wheel and, despite officers identifying themselves, he was not obeying commands. They used pepper spray in the cab of the truck to no effect.
Shortly afterwards, Bell woke up and officers observed him reaching into his glove box. He remained unresponsive to commands and – suddenly and without warning – backed the truck up at a high rate of speed and hit a patrol vehicle, sending it spinning. He continued to accelerate, also striking a minivan and pushing it onto the sidewalk.
He then drove foreword and hit the same patrol car, slamming it into another. The officers on the ground scrambled to avoid being hit. The clock struck 12:13.
At press time, the police who fired into Bell’s vehicle have been placed on administrative leave, as per officer-involved protocol.
“The actions of the suspect…put [the officers] in great jeopardy,” St. John said. “The officers were protecting themselves and others from possible death.”