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Officer dies month after suffering broken ankle in wreck

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- A St. Louis police officer who suffered a seemingly minor broken ankle in a wreck while pursuing a stolen car a month ago has died of complications from the injury, police said Monday.

Officer James Branson, 36, was injured along with his partner, Jermaine Jackson, 30, on Feb. 11, when their police cruiser collided with a sport utility vehicle. The officers were following two carjacking suspects in another car at the time of the wreck.

Police chief Joe Mokwa said Monday that Branson died Sunday night after experiencing sudden shortness of breath and difficulty breathing at a friend's house in Belleville, Ill. He was pronounced dead just before 8 p.m. at a Belleville hospital.

A preliminary autopsy indicated the cause of death was a pulmonary embolism that created a massive blood clot, Mokwa said. Asked if he was concerned about the medical care Branson received after the accident, Mokwa said, "They tried their best. It just illustrates how vulnerable we all are to life-threatening injuries."

Jackson suffered the more serious injuries -- lung bruises and head injuries. He remains in critical condition at a St. Louis hospital.

Mokwa said Jackson faces "serious therapy and convalescing," while he had expected Branson to return to duty soon. He has visited Jackson daily, but hadn't seen Branson in a number of days.

Branson had surgery for the broken ankle on Feb. 14 and had been sent home. He was on crutches and was receiving home-health visits twice a week. Branson, married with four children, will be buried this weekend.

Mokwa said if the carjacking suspects are identified, he would expect them to be prosecuted for murder.

Police said the suspects pulled a woman out of her car, then sped away in it. Jackson and Branson spotted the stolen vehicle a short time later and began pursuing it before slowing down as the suspects raced away, Mokwa said the day after the accident.

The police car was traveling at about 40 mph at an intersection when it collided with the SUV, whose driver apparently didn't see the police car, Mokwa said. He said the pursuit was justified and according to department policy.

The stolen vehicle was found abandoned blocks away.

Both officers started with the department about four years ago.

Branson is the second St. Louis officer to die from a car accident while in the line of duty in the past eight months. In August, Michael Barwick, 27, was killed when his police cruiser collided with a van, flipped and burst into flames.

Barwick and his partner, Jenna Christian, also were pursuing a stolen car; a pair of teenagers were charged with murder for causing that accident.

In addition, Sgt. Bradford Fish, 48, died two weeks ago, though not for reasons related to his work.

All three men who died were from the department's downtown Fourth District, a situation that has left that police community "devastated emotionally," Mokwa said.

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