Thomas Colatrella had just left in his car to go buy ice cream for his girlfriend and her four children.
The kids stepped outside on the hot summer night Saturday to wait — and then they heard screeching tires and the smash of metal on metal three blocks away.
“We didn’t know,” the girlfriend, April Mercer, said Monday.
They didn’t know that Colatrella had driven straight into a dangerous police chase that Mercer says recklessly killed her boyfriend at the age of 32.
His Chevrolet Impala was hit by a pickup truck allegedly fleeing police at the intersection of Smart and Monroe avenues. He died at a hospital.
Mercer and the children could see the flood of red and blue lights and hear the chorus of police sirens. But they’d seen enough police action in their Northeast neighborhood that they didn’t know to worry.
Now Mercer is angry that police gave chase when the pickup truck that police say was driven by Samuel Delozier, 22, of Kansas City, sped away from officers.
Police thought that the truck was likely the same one that had been used by someone who shot at a person the night before.
The chase described in court records hit speeds of 75 mph, the truck blowing through stop signs, going the wrong way on a one-way street and twisting through several blocks of narrow streets and parked cars in the congested Northeast neighborhood.
“They say they don’t want to endanger people,” Mercer said. “But they did. They did.”
The Kansas City Police Department’s policy states that officers will not begin a pursuit for a traffic violation, DUI or stolen vehicle unless the occupants have been involved in a dangerous felony or there is an immediate danger to others.
Delozier has been charged with manslaughter because his truck struck Colatrella’s Chevrolet on the driver’s side door, driving the car into a stone wall.
Police said the crash is under investigation. It was unclear Monday if police still think Delozier was involved in the shooting the night before.
Mercer said she called the police and talked with an investigator, asking why they gave chase. “They said, ‘We’re allowed to do that.’”
As she spoke in the home where Colatrella lived with her and her children, two candles in a pair of glasses were burning down to the bottom with their last flickers.
Colatrella had bought them Saturday, their last day together, Mercer said, because he loved the smell of fall and wanted to get into the feel of the coming season as the children were starting school again.
He lit them, and she can’t bring herself to put them out.
He loved her kids, she said. The trip to get ice cream was the kind of thing he did all the time.
One of the reasons she decided to start dating him two summers ago, she said, was because he came to put on a show of firecrackers for the kids on July Fourth even though she had told him she wasn’t looking for a relationship.
“He was persistent,” she said. “He was the first one I met (in her dating life) who was ready to take on four kids.”
Her kids, ages 2, 6, 7 and 9, loved him back, she said.
“He was always so corny, I called him Cheese Puff.”
When he didn’t immediately return with the promised ice cream Saturday, she figured he’d run into friends and got sidetracked.
“Thomas had many friends from all over,” said Nikki Berry, who knew Colatrella from his hometown of Hamilton, Mo.
He once traveled to Germany to catch up with friends who lived there, she said.
Colatrella was a private security officer. He had trained at the Missouri Western State University Law Enforcement Academy in St. Joseph and was a former Ray County Sheriff’s Office deputy.
He loved the history of law enforcement and collected rare firearms.
“Considering his job field was to protect citizens and keep bad guys like this off the streets, this is very heartbreaking to anyone who knew Thomas,” Berry said.
“This was a preventable situation,” she said. “But instead a young man lost his life just trying to get some ice cream.”
Mercer said she wants the police to review what happened in her boyfriend’s death and to look at the department’s pursuit policy.
“I want them held accountable,” she said.
And she wants a murder charge, not just manslaughter, brought against the driver of the fleeing pickup truck.
The house is too quiet now, with children who mostly don’t understand or realize what has happened, and no Thomas around anymore with his loud, boisterous voice.
And soon his candles will burn out too.