The minute before a 22-year-old Temple University student drove her BMW into a Florida police officer and was fatally shot “played out like a movie set” on Miami Beach, said a retired homicide detective who witnessed the incident.
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, police said.
“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 Miami Herald .
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. Hithon was in town to celebrate her birthday.
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. But 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.
The nearby Miami-Dade Police Department is investigating the shooting, which is routine in the case of a Miami Beach police shooting.
Hithon was black. Both officers — David Cajuso, who was injured and recovering at home, and officer who shot Hithon — are white, according to a police report.
Lavoie reported from Richmond, Virginia.