Officer Abraham Matos-Wilde was riding along his usual patrol route on Roosevelt Boulevard Wednesday night when a frantic passer-by caught his eye.
The concerned citizen pointed to a silver Pontiac that had just been involved in an armed-theft of a motorcycle. The driver was armed, the man warned Matos-Wilde.
At 7:31 p.m., the Traffic Unit cop picked up his radio and began feeding dispatchers a block-by-block description of a calm, cagey pursuit that ended in an unfathomable tragedy five minutes after it began at Rising Sun Avenue and the Boulevard.
Initially it was unclear if police had aggressively pursued the Pontiac, driven by Donta Cradock, until the car crashed on 3rd Street near Annsbury, claiming the lives of three children and one child's mother.
But an audiotape of the radio communications released by police yesterday revealed that Matos-Wilde never engaged in a dangerous high-speed chase.
Instead, the 17-year veteran kept his cruiser's lights and sirens off and remained at least two cars behind the Pontiac as it traveled south on the Boulevard, switching from the outer lanes to the inner lanes.
Matos-Wilde told dispatchers that he was following "a male armed with a gun."
"I'm about two cars behind it," he said, requesting "more cars in the area" or a helicopter to follow the Pontiac.
When traffic stopped at a red light at 4th Street and the Boulevard, Matos-Wilde thought that he saw an opportunity. The Pontiac was boxed in by other cars at the light.
Matos-Wilde used a loudspeaker and ordered Cradock to "get out of the car," said Lt. Frank Vanore, a police spokesman. But Cradock, 18, jumped a curb, smacked into a few other vehicles and sped down 3rd Street, which merges with 4th at the intersection.
"He just got into a crash," Matos-Wilde said. "He's crossing the Boulevard right now. Multiple car accidents up here."
At 7:36 p.m. Matos-Wilde arrived at the scene, where the Pontiac had just struck a stoop, killing and dismembering the kids - ages 11 months, 6 and 7.