MIAMI BEACH — A possibly intoxicated 22-year-old Temple University student in town to celebrate her birthday drove her BMW into a Florida police officer and was fatally shot by another officer in Miami Beach in front of a crowd of onlookers, police said.
Cariann Hithon of Bowie, Maryland, crashed into several cars Sunday evening as people watched from sidewalk cafes in the tourist district known as South Beach. Video posted by the Miami Herald showed people standing around the wrecked car, wondering aloud what had happened. Then the BMW suddenly started moving again and took out the officer standing in front of it. Another officer fired three shots into the car.
“It played out like a movie set with people running, screaming, car crashes, gunshots, an injured officer lying on his back on the ground — all within a minute,” retired Miami-Dade homicide detective John Butchko, whose car Hithon hit, told the newspaper.
Butchko’s passenger, Miami Beach lawyer Sean Ellsworth, added: “I was literally shocked she would drive into four or five officers. She just floored it.” Ellsworth and Butchko suffered minor injuries.
The reason Hithon tried to flee may never be known. But investigators said they believe Hithon and her male friend — who was seen by witnesses casually getting out of the car before she accelerated — may have been drinking heavily earlier Sunday.
Miami-Dade police detained that man, 22-year-old Ryan Jerrell Lucas, for questioning, according to a news release. The agency is investigating the case, which is typical when a Miami Beach police shooting occurs. Additional details, including Lucas’ hometown, were not released.
Hithon’s father, retired U.S. Navy Capt. Cary Hithon, told The Associated Press that his daughter wanted to become a lawyer to help people.
“Being an attorney to help the underserved is something she wanted to do,” he said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “She would have been a good one.”
Hithon said he has many questions about what happened. He said the account of events given to him by police does not sound like his daughter.
“The only logical explanation in this situation is she panicked, and things just escalated out of control,” he said.
He said she had recently transferred from Hampton University in Virginia to Temple University in Philadelphia and expected to graduate with a degree in political science in the spring.
Hithon was black. Both officers — David Cajuso, who was injured and recovering at home, and the officer who shot Hithon — are white, according to a police report. Lucas, the passenger, is black.
While attending Hampton University, Hithon had contact with police at least six times and was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery, marijuana possession and falsely identifying herself to a police officer, according to court records. None of those charges ended in a conviction.
She was found guilty of speeding in December 2015 and improper control while driving in March 2016. Her license was also restricted for six months in 2016 to driving to and from work and church in relation to a marijuana possession charge in March of that year.
In Maryland, she was also charged with several motor vehicle offenses in 2015 and 2016, including speeding, driving with a suspended license and giving a false name to police.