Richland deputy hospitalized after being hit by teen suspect's car

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Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said a teenage suspect hit one of his officers with a car, sending her to the hospital with serious injuries, an incident he says shows the dangers of what his deputies face.

A visibly frustrated Lott talked about the incident that involving Deputy Sarah Merriman at a Wednesday afternoon press conference. Lott said it's the second straight week that one of his officers was attacked with potentially deadly force.

"We are fortunate Deputy Merriman did not get killed yesterday," Lott said. "It wasn't because he didn't try to kill her with that car."

The sheriff says deputies had tracked a stolen car to a parking lot in the 6800 block of Two Notch Road around 10 a.m. Tuesday. Lott said Merriman and another deputy pulled up in their vehicles and parked behind the suspect and attempted to call out the 17-year-old.

However, at that point, they say the teen drove the car in reverse, striking Merriman before she could get out of the way. The vehicle kept driving.

Lott released two videos of the incident, one from a surveillance camera on the business where the car was parked, and another from a dash cam.

Merriman was then rushed to the hospital where as of Wednesday afternoon she continued to receive treatment for head and body injuries.

"That car was no different than a gun," Lott said. "It could have taken her life."

The other deputies then forced the teen to stop but they say he refused to exit the vehicle. Deputies say they then broke the driver’s side window to unlock the door and remove him.

Just a day earlier, Lott had detailed how his officers were ambushed in a northeast Columbia neighborhood last week by a man he said lured officers there to shoot at them with an assault rifle. That man had over 900 rounds of ammunition and tactical gear and had created a diagram planning how he intended to kill officers, according to Lott.

The suspect in Tuesday's incident is facing multiple charges, including attempted murder for striking Merriman. But Lott said the teen has been charged with several other crimes before and is upset that he was given a $150,000 bond at a hearing Wednesday.

"That's why we have crime in our streets, that's why we have violent crime," he said. "We're not holding people accountable."

In a theme he's touched on before, Lott said judges aren't denying bond to people who are repeat offenders and what he feels are clear threats to the community.

"That is the crack in our criminal justice system that has to be fixed," he said.

Lott said Merriman will recover but will have a long road ahead of her. Back in April, she was one of 19 officers nationwide who received the "Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Policing." It's given by the U.S. Attorney General and recognized her for her actions during a domestic dispute call last year. She is the first South Carolina officer to receive the award.

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